Brexit divisions and angry social media discourse encourage tribal journalism where blind loyalty takes priority over facts

“The change in newspapers’ front pages over the past five years has been extraordinary,” Robert Peston, ITV News’s Political Editor, claimed in a passionate accusation last week. “Newspapers are now activists in these culture wars. The notion that most newspapers now are impartially trying to present the news is a joke.”

Peston’s argument, made in a compelling BBC Radio debate titled ‘Impartial Journalism In a Polarised World’, was somewhat self-serving, in that he used it to present as “guardians of impartiality” the broadcast news sector of which the former newspaper journalist is now a part. 

“Do we (broadcasters) respond by investing even more in being impartial, holding the ring, being the judge, or are we doomed to obsolescence if we are not permitted to enter into the great propaganda wars?” he asked piously (without acknowledging that regulated broadcast news still largely takes its lead from the press).

But clearly ‘Pesto’ has a point. The polarisation of the news-stand was one of the reasons why this title was launched in 2010 to offer an alternative of concise and unbiased news coverage. Since then the need for such balance has grown as the distribution of news has become more dependent on the charged milieu of social media, where polemic thrives.

‘Abandoned the search for truth’

Some media outlets, Peston argued, “have simply abandoned the search for truth and just become propagandists of the sort that you see routinely now on social media.”

Of course Fleet Street was always partisan. But Britain’s division over Brexit, in combination with the rise of the angry social media discourse that helped create it, encourages a new level of tribal journalism where blind loyalty to the cause takes priority over facts.

Is this an irreconcilable trend? Maybe not. A new global initiative aims to clean up the world of digital news by establishing a set of universal standards intended to distinguish the trustworthy from the malign.

Led by the Paris-based NGO, Reporters Without Borders, the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI) is backed by 120 organisations, including the BBC, the Guardian and the Associated Press.

The search for truth

The project has now received $1.5m (£1.2m) in funding by Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist, the online classified advertising service that helped to undermine the business model of print media. Newmark joins the ranks of Internet billionaires working to repair the news ecosystem, alongside e-Bay founder and media philanthropist Pierre Omidyar and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, who has given new life to the Washington Post since buying it for $250m (£201m). 

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250m. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250m (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty)

In an email, Newmark says: “We are in a serious fight for truth, and the stakes that many countries face are a free press, an informed public, and a strong democracy. Especially now, news organisations need to stand up for transparency and ethics and make clear to the world that they can be trusted.”

Rather than going out to close down rogue sites created to disseminate false information, the JTI is designed to “support the good” by helping bonafide news outlets stand apart, says its leader Olaf Steenfadt. 

News publishers must abide by key principles of accuracy, independence, impartiality, fairness, transparency and accountability. They can seek certification and submit themselves to outside audit. The system is designed for lone bloggers as well as large newsrooms. By using machine-readable signals, the project will enable tech platforms to support certified news outlets in their algorithms. It also aims to create a space where advertisers have confidence in brand safety.

Will Facebook and Google play ball?

Will it work? Much depends on Facebook and Google, the companies that have done most to create the environment now exploited by propagandists. Both US giants have pledged to improve the news ecosystem – Google last week announced it was prioritising original reporting in its algorithm – and both are backing the JTI.

Steenfadt says the tech companies have much to gain from allowing journalism to define its own standards rather than policing it from Silicon Valley. “It would take so much pressure off their backs, both Facebook and Google, if they can say ‘Here is a set of signals which is self-governed by journalism’ and not something happening behind the curtain.”

In the BBC debate, panellist Helen Lewis argued that Facebook should change its visual architecture to distinguish bonafide news and that Google should shut down its YouTube recommendation algorithm, which can surface extreme videos.

Ultimately though, an onus remains on news users themselves. America’s first amendment and Britain’s rumbustious newspaper tradition means that any definition of “good” journalism is likely to be broad enough to include the “tendentious nonsense” that Peston complained of last week.

Contrary to his implication, there is plentiful good written journalism out there. But in a world where only 30 per cent of Americans view democracy as essential, not everyone is as discerning as i readers in going out to find it.

More from Ian Burrell

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It’s time for some perspective to replace the Operation Yellowhammer hysteria

We are inured by now to the biased reporting of Brexit which those opposed to it perpetrate in the media. Even so, I listened with more than the usual incredulity and irritation to one BBC correspondent giving his opinion on the Operation Yellowhammer papers (a five-page out-of-date summary of the Government’s Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions). Having read them myself, the only thing missing in his one-sided report was mention of the plague of locusts which Brexit will surely cause.

A long time ago I worked for a colleague assessing whether we should be making investments into various businesses. He had previously worked for the FT as a Lex columnist and was adept at using the same information and set of facts to produce two seemingly plausible reports on an opportunity, one of which would convince the reader that it was an investment never to be missed and the other which would cause the same reader not to touch it with a barge-pole. He would then point out that the answer invariably lay somewhere in the middle. Sadly, there are now very few, if any, professional mainstream journalists able to see through the propaganda they are fed and take an objective view.

In the interests of a more balanced assessment of a no-deal Brexit – by no means made now a No Worries Brexit – I will try to emulate that colleague and in the article which follows give an alternative Brexiteer’s assessment of the same Brexit assumptions. Let us call it Operation Nightingale (a bird with a beautiful and powerful song quite capable of being heard in SW1 from Berkeley Square).

When the UK leaves the EU on 31st October, the EU will flagrantly ignore its obligations under Article 8 of its treaty, the requirement to cooperate with neighbouring countries and enter into agreements to effect that cooperation. It will make life as difficult as possible for one of its closest allies.

Whist the UK has made it clear that all EU citizens living in the UK will continue to enjoy their exact same rights, no such assurances have been given by the EU and some member states may deliberately attempt to penalise UK citizens in respect of social security and other work and pension benefits, even to the point of demanding on-the-spot payments for acute or emergency medical treatment.

The UK Government is no longer sitting on its hands, as it had been doing when Philip Hammond was gloomily predicting economic Armageddon and not allocating enough resources to No Deal planning, but is making up for that lost time and devoting even more resources for the formidably efficient (when it wants or has to be) Civil Service to inform and prepare us to leave the EU.

Because the EU gave the supine government led by Theresa May Hobson’s choice that Brexit must now occur on a Thursday, Friday 1st November should be declared a public holiday (and why not annually?) to celebrate our liberation from the democratically stifling and economically sclerotic EU. Rather than have journalists scouring the ports and country for Brexit horror stories, they can have the day off.

The enforced timing of the UK’s departure by the EU in the run-up to winter is also unhelpful, given the unpredictable British weather, but we will all need to react as we usually do. Some may observe tongue-in-cheek that whilst the Common Agricultural Policy has eurocrats in Brussels working to grow a magic money tree, at least meteorological efforts have thus far concentrated on climate change rather than passing Weather Directives.

Big businesses will continue to protest and, with their greater resources and lobbying firepower, attempt to engineer and then exploit disruption to protect themselves against smaller, more entrepreneurial companies which threaten their cosy existence. With the UK able to make its own laws regarding competition and state aid, it can utilise as much of the £39bn alimony payment as it chooses to compensate those businesses and UK citizens who can demonstrate that actions taken by the EU and their global corporate chums have harmed them. Well-run British businesses will spot and exploit commercial advantages created by the anti-competitive actions of the EU and big business.

Many of the actions which the EU could take to harm the UK will also have negative, and sometimes greater, impact on member state businesses and citizens. Politicians will therefore be taking these steps at their peril.

There have been assurances for some time from those running the port of Calais that they have been well prepared to ensure there are no delays to inbound or outbound traffic to and from Dover under any Brexit scenario. The French government under President Macron, a hard-line Europhile under increasing domestic political pressure, may decide to make life more difficult in terms of bureaucratic checks and delays for trade with the UK, one of its strongest security allies and saviour militarily of recent times. If he does, the logistics companies will look to the many other continental ports serving cross-Channel trade for solutions such as Zeebrugge, Rotterdam or Antwerp, which compete and would be only too happy to keep the UK’s £95bn trade surplus in goods flowing. These same logistics companies, which employ people and pay taxes in the UK, will also relish the challenge of providing just-in-time or emergency supplies of parts, medicines and fresh food supplies in the event that unnecessary delays are caused for the Dover to Calais crossing.

It was clear that the UK economy benefited from the build-up of stocks prior to the 31st March deadline and will benefit again before 31st October. It is now also clear that the uncertainty of the six-month delay was not good for the British economy, so by leaving in October business and investment can once again face all the ever present normal and various challenges that exist whether we are in or out of the EU without having to speculate about our hokey-cokey Brexit.

There will be no overall food shortages but in the event of avoidable disruption to food supply chains caused by the actions of others, British food suppliers will be obvious beneficiaries. Some food availability and prices may suffer but there is more likely to be a shortage of Cheddar in Carrefour than Brie in Budgens.

And it must also be remembered that because of that £95bn trade deficit, the majority of lorries using the Dover to Calais crossing are EU-owned with EU drivers and many of them returning with a cargo of fresh air. It will therefore be EU businesses and citizens, along with continental exporters who want to turn their lorries round swiftly with a new load, who will complain the loudest if French checks cause M20 tailbacks.

The UK is already taking steps to implement export registration points (some 150 at the last count) across the UK to ensure lorries can enter Kent ‘export ready’ with the relatively straightforward paperwork that cannot be provided in advance or retrospectively, as happens already for Britain’s trade which is with the rest of the world (growth in which is outstripping that with the EU). The UK Government will not impose checks for EU goods which, by definition, will be compliant and so it will only need to continue with those checks it already undertakes to prevent law-breaking, such as the smuggling of people or non-compliant and dutiable goods. So no change there.

Having heard so much about the threat of the mass exodus of bankers from the City and of power cuts, it is reassuring that the report has little mention of any significant threat to cross-border financial services or energy supplies. There may be some delays in getting personal data out of the EU and travellers to the EU would be well advised to allow some extra time for passport and immigration checks while border officials get used to the similar checks that apply to travel all over the rest of the world. But any teething problems will be short-lived.

The two most sensitive land borders which the UK has with the EU are in Gibraltar and Ireland. Both have been exploited by those in the EU seeking political advantage and by Remainers in the UK intent on spreading alarm. Spain’s claims over Gibraltar are old hat and will continue, Brexit or no Brexit. What will also continue, Brexit or no Brexit, is the critical dependency of the Spanish economy on the British tourist euro. You don’t need to be a commercial genius on that issue to work out which bigger boot is on the bigger foot.

The Irish border is a much thornier and politically sensitive challenge for both countries. It has been hugely politicised by those in the UK resisting Brexit and in the EU for negotiating leverage in the context of a deal. It has also spawned a host of self-styled experts of which I am not one. However, to suggest that no solutions have been put forward for alternative arrangements to the backstop is untrue and that no negotiations are taking place naïve, not least because they need to be highly confidential, given the cynical way in which those who break the law rather than uphold and preserve the hard-won peace will exploit the Irish border issue for their own selfish political ends.

Resolving a workable solution will take both time and compromise, but as no-one is proposing erecting a hard border if Brexit has actually happened, the incentive and imperative then to reach compromise will trump the temptation to use Ireland as a political football. Ireland may be the biggest loose end after Brexit, but there will be an overriding will on the part of all committed to peace to find a way, which will be practicable but not perfect, just as there was with the Good Friday Agreement.

The last two other areas identified in the report which are important to many in this country – and identified as loose ends after the end of October – are firstly to move from the situation where foreign fishing vessels will almost certainly continue to fish in British waters without a further outbreak of cod wars or scallop skirmishes. And, secondly, the underlying challenge of improving adult social care. Getting Brexit over and done with enables the UK Government to turn its attention wholly to underlying issues such as these which are not caused by Brexit but where specific provisions may need to apply over a period of transition following Brexit.

So there are two sides to every story and my erstwhile colleague would no doubt have made a more succinct job of telling the other side of the Yellowhammer story. But our mainstream journalists should be doing a better job in the first place of reporting Brexit in a way which puts this potentially divisive topic in perspective rather than fanning the flames of hysterical rhetoric.

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Former PM David Cameron’s lack of contrition for this political Brexit chaos is startling

The lack of contrition for this political chaos is startling. “It pains me what has happened… and the mistakes I made,” David Cameron does concede, as he breaks his silence, ahead of the publication of his memoirs.

Yet, despite his fears for Britain’s future in the event of no deal, and the shambolic Remain campaign that he presided over, he is unrepentant about his decision to hold a Brexit referendum.

There is a flicker of insight into Cameron’s day-to-day life since his vanishing act from Downing Street. Only 16 per cent of the public have a positive view of him, YouGov polling suggests, and the former PM says that he is abused in the street.

This is unlikely to improve in the near future. Although he won’t tread the normal book promotion circuit – only holding select events – he will still have to run the gauntlet, such is the strength of feeling. Expect furious heckles. Many Remainers loathe him, while Brexiteers don’t credit him for botching his campaign and handing them victory.

There are rapier thrusts for Boris Johnson, as Cameron criticises the new PM’s conduct and leadership of the country
There are rapier thrusts for Boris Johnson, as Cameron criticises the new PM’s conduct and leadership of the country (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty)

Interviewer Andrew Billen writes, tellingly: “What I don’t get is a sense that he understands just how angry people are with him.”

For fans of political bloodsports, next week’s memoirs will see scores settled. “Mendacious” Gove gets the sawn-off shotgun treatment. Cameron apparently texted him: “You are either a team  player or a wanker.” (You decide.)

Read More:

From left to right, must-read political memoirs from across the spectrum

There are rapier thrusts for Boris Johnson, as Cameron criticises the new PM’s conduct and leadership of the country. Home Secretary Priti Patel also gets it. Gove and Johnson, he adds, have “behaved appallingly”, “trashing the government” and “they left the truth at home”. The psychologists among you may observe signs of projection.

Cameron insists that he didn’t cheerily hum his way out of No 10, moments after resigning, but was “hugely depressed” about losing his job, and that he has lost sleep: “I think about this every day… I worry desperately about what is going to happen next.”

The stakes are high for him. These memoirs – purchased by HarperCollins for a reported £800,000 – are Cameron’s chance to try to seize control of his legacy. Slim chance. That’s now down to 10 Downing Street’s incumbent.

More from Oliver Duff

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No Deal is the safest option, given the UK’s increasingly unsustainable trade relationship with the EU 

The fateful decision about whether the UK should leave the EU with or without a withdrawal agreement has to be informed by evidence comparing the UK’s past experience of trading within the EU Customs Union and Single Market, with its trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. 

The data released by the ONS in March 2019 provides the best available comparative evidence of this kind since it distinguishes UK trade in goods and services with the EU over the twenty years 1999-2018 from that with ‘non-EU’ markets. The latter are not, of course, identical with those trading under WTO rules. Just over 25% of their total value arises from trade with European Free Trade Association (EFTA) members and countries that have trade agreements with the EU, which might inflate their overall value. However, comparative analyses of Switzerland, Norway and Turkey with the UK’s WTO-rules trade partners show they do not do so. On the contrary, they fractionally lower the growth rates of the UK’s non-EU goods exports. The ONS data therefore enable us to make a fair comparison between the UK’s trade performance within the EU and with partners under WTO rules from 1999 to 2018. No better data is available.       

It provides a grim warning about the costs of continuing to trade with EU under any form of agreement that continues the existing trade relationship.

  • Despite the benefits of the Customs Union and Single Market, UK goods exports to EU markets have grown by just 0.3% per annum in real terms over the past 20 years. They cannot therefore have contributed significantly to the growth of employment in the UK. The number of EU members increased over these years of course, so the 0.3% per annum might fractionally overstate or mis-state real growth. The Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of the EU15 alone was still lower at 0.08% per annum. 
  • UK goods exports to non-EU countries, by contrast, have grown over ten times faster – by 3.2% per annum. Worth just 64% of EU exports in 1999, they overtook exports to the EU in value in 2015, and have plainly therefore contributed far more than the EU trade to the growth of employment in the UK over the past two decades.
  • Imports from the EU meanwhile have surged. Consequently, the UK’s goods trade deficit with the EU has grown from just £7.9bn in 1999 to £93.5bn in 2018. If that rate of growth were to continue for the next 20 years, its exponential trend line indicates that it would reach £246bn by 2030. By contrast, the higher value UK exports to non-EU countries produced a deficit in 2018 of £44.6bn. This is less than half the size of deficit with the EU, and almost half of that (£21 billion) is due to trade in crude oil and natural gas, not manufacturing.

This combination of virtually static exports to the EU, and surging imports from it, seems to be peculiar to the UK. Earlier analyses have shown that the growth of goods exports to the EU of almost all developed economies – including the US, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Brazil, Korea, and South Africa – out-performed the UK from 1993 to 2015. Trading without an agreement, the US decisively overtook the UK as a goods exporter to the EU in 2008. Rising 1.9% faster per year, they are now worth 37% more than those of the UK. 

One may delve further into the distinctive trade relationship that the UK has established with the EU by analysing its ten most-valuable manufacturing export sectors in 2018, manufacturing being 88% of all UK goods exports. In every single sector, from motor vehicles and parts with its 14.4% share of the total, to beverages with a 2.7% share, exports to non-EU countries have outpaced exports to EU countries – by an overall average of 2.9% per annum. In only two major sectors have UK exports to EU countries grown moderately well since 1999 – aerospace and pharmaceuticals – and they happen to be the two sectors where, with zero or near-zero global tariffs, the UK gains little or no market advantage from membership of the Customs Union.

In nine sectors out of the ten there was a trade deficit in 2018 with the EU, ‘aerospace & transport’ vehicles being the sole exception, while in trade with the non-EU countries there is a deficit in only four sectors, with motor vehicles earning the largest surplus of the other six, at £16bn and pharmaceuticals the second largest at £8.3bn.

Goods deficits are offset, of course, by surpluses of services exports. In 2018 services exports to the EU totalled £117bn, and over the previous 20 years have grown at a healthy 5.1% per year. Currently, the surplus in the UK’s EU trade in services, worth £29bn, covers about a third of the UK’s EU goods deficit, but by 2030, if rates of growth of goods and services remained the same till then, it wouldn’t even cover a quarter. The UK’s EU deficit in goods would swallow the UK’s entire projected surplus in services – that of the EU plus the far more valuable non-EU surplus – and still leave the UK with an overall net deficit of £136bn. 

Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT) and the Bank of England have warned about the costs of leaving the EU, but they have overlooked the risk of an unsustainable trade deficit – and the mother of all balance of payments crises – and its extremely unpleasant consequences for the public finances if the UK were to agree to continue its existing trade relationship with the EU for a transition period and an indeterminate period beyond. This oversight is especially surprising in the case of HMT, since Denis Healey, the Chancellor at the time of the unsustainable balance of payments crisis in 1976 which lead to a massive IMF bailout, later discovered that it was due in large part to figures provided by the Treasury being ‘grossly overstated.’ One would therefore expect them to be super-cautious on this score.

Why have these risks been overlooked, and the failure of the Single Market from the point of view of British exports or productivity remained unanalysed? Every UK government since 1973 has fondly hoped, of course, that the EEC and the EU would generate economic benefits for the UK. However, they have all preferred to assume that the UK was enjoying the economic benefits they had hoped for, and resolutely declined to measure and monitor them, apart from a small classified one-off HMT study in 2005, which only became public in 2010 because of a Freedom of Information request. 

When preparing the case for Remain prior to the 2016 referendum, HMT ‘forgot’ its own 2005 analysis, which showed UK goods exports to the EU rising by just 16% over the 30 years from 1973 to 2004. Instead, its long-term predictions, were based on the idea that ‘EU membership boosts intra-EU trade by 115% relative to a position of WTO membership’, (p.163, para A47), so that if the UK decided to Remain, the trade losses would necessarily be catastrophic, the symmetric equivalent of a 115% increase in trade ‘is a fall in trade of 53% from leaving the EU.’ 

Many of those who oppose No Deal today still rely on the dire predictions based on such assumptions. A later analysis using the same model and evidence, but focusing exclusively on UK experience rather than making inferences from the experiences of the EU as a whole, estimated the likely increase in UK goods exports by 2030 ‘in the range 20-25%’. Back in the real world, the ONS data we now have shows that UK goods exports to the EU over the past 20 years actually grew by just 5.4%. 

As a result of the reluctance of the government, and of the CBI and other trade associations, to regularly collect, analyse and report data about UK trade with the EEC/EU over the 46 years of membership, they have both been unable to recognise the distinctive characteristics – and distinctive problems – of the trading relationship that has evolved over these years. Neither governments nor trade associations have therefore ever asked critical policy questions.

Why has membership done nothing to raise UK GDP, or productivity, or exports and employment? Why has this failure remained unexamined and unnoticed for so long? Why has the UK never identified the deficiencies of most EU trade agreements for its own exporters? Why has the growth of goods exports of countries trading with the EU under WTO rules commonly exceeded that of countries trading with them under a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and even that of members’ exports to each other? Why have UK exports grown fastest in markets where the Customs Union delivers no advantage? Why are the UK’s exports under WTO a picture of health, while those to the EU a record of failure across the board over two decades and more?

Further critical policy questions arise from the records of particular sectors which their own trade associations have singularly failed to ask. Is UK’s luxury vehicle manufacturing now moving to the EU because of competitive advantage or because of EU-compliant state subsidies? Is the pharmaceutical industry decamping to Ireland as has been claimed,  and if so, is it also because of competitive advantage, or Ireland’s low corporation tax rates? Will these moves adversely affect the UK’s non-EU exports over the long term? And looking at trade from the consumer’s perspective: what’s the likely future cost to UK’s food consumers as the EU’s grip on UK imports of food products and agriculture passes 70%, which it did last year.

Economists have years ahead of them to answer these and other questions. Unfortunately, the new UK Government, Parliament and the electorate have only weeks to decide on the key question of whether to continue the existing EU trade relationship into a transition period and beyond or to leave without an agreement.

The ONS data strongly indicate that the UK should make every effort to avoid the risks of doing so, and that it should try to bring two and more decades of disappointing failure to an end. If the EU decides that they cannot agree to a joint application to the WTO for a temporary tariff standstill while negotiating a new trade agreement, the Article XXIV option, then leaving without a deal must be the best option. 

Those who argue against it continue to rely on HMT’s fantastical long-term predictions or, when they offer any evidence at all, on various sequels prepared before the scheduled meaningful vote in late 2018. These adopted, without explanation or apology, a new economic model, but made similar far-fetched assumptions and estimates to make sure trading under WTO rules always appeared to be the worst option. 

Some of these are worth mentioning since they are the basis of the only ‘evidence’ that the current campaign against no deal can muster. In the EU Exit Analysis: Cross Whitehall Briefing published in various forms between January and July 2018, it was estimated that UK goods trading with the EU under WTO rules would immediately incur tariff, non-tariff and customs charges with a total tariff equivalent value (TTE) of 30%, which accounted for nearly 90% of the GDP loss of 7.7% that no deal would supposedly incur. Patrick Minford pointed out that, since the UK’s product standards are identical to those of the EU, it is difficult to see why the TTE would be higher than the 20% TTE value known to be incurred by such barriers on Japanese and American goods exports to the EU. Once this and other more realistic estimates were incorporated into the analysis, the predicted GDP loss after No Deal simply disappears. 

In the EU Exit Long-term Economic Analysis of November 2018, it was estimated (p.49, Figure 4.1) that the total value of FTAs that the UK might conclude with the US, Australia, Canada, India, China and 12 other non-members would be a 0.2% gain to UK GDP, even though, as Andrew Lilico observed, the European Commission had previously estimated that the gain to EU GDP of concluding agreements with a similar set of countries would be 1.9%. Negotiating exclusively in its own interest, the UK would apparently only realise about one tenth of the value that it might gain from EU template agreements, even though research shows that the vast majority of past EU FTAs have not helped UK exports in the least. This analysis also decided that the UK could not expect any GDP gain at all from any other trade policy or from taking back control of immigration or regulation. 

By such tendentious estimates and assumptions, the Treasury constructed its case against a no-deal exit which appears to have convinced many MPs, though some no doubt have found arguing against a no-deal exit a politically convenient cover of arguing for Remain. Our analysis, by contrast, rests firmly on how UK trade has actually performed inside and outside the Customs Union over the past 20–40 years, and the findings are virtually uniform across all major manufacturing sectors. They demonstrate beyond any doubt that a no-deal exit is now the best option.

Leaving with no trade deal would provide an opportunity – and the strongest possible incentive – for the new Government to devise and implement trade and fiscal policies that build on the UK’s remarkable success when trading under WTO rules. It would also encourage policy-makers to understand and address the UK’s chronic failure in EU goods markets before resuming EU trade negotiations. And it would provide an opportunity to re-negotiate trade agreements with other countries that have been designed to serve the common interests of EU member countries which the UK plainly has not shared. Above all, it would require policy-makers to discover exactly where UK’s comparative advantage in trade lies and to tailor future UK trade agreements to build on demonstrated success.

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People tell me I should write a diet book, but my secret to losing weight wouldn’t stretch to a paperback

Since the start of 2019 I have lost two stone (13kg) in weight. Yeah, don’t get too excited. According to my BMI I am still technically obese. There was a week or so when I thought I had got down  to being simply overweight. I was over the moon.

Then I measured my height and found I was 2cm shorter than I thought I was and suddenly I was obese again. But what a fortnight of living the charmed life of the merely overweight. The things I saw.

I am 52, which means when I meet someone I haven’t seen for a while I sometimes see a flicker of concern – have I got some terrible debilitating illness? When I emphasise that I am feeling really well, they generally ask me: “You’ve lost so much weight! What’s the secret?” As if science had been struggling for years to ascertain what it is that makes people’s tummies get rounder or flatter.

Don’t they remember Archimedes shouting “Eureka” when he was eating a Flake in the bath and realised that he was now wedged in? Or when Isaac Newton had his packet of Monster Munch knocked out of his hand by a falling apple, scattering them into the dirt and giving him no option but to eat the fruit? Or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: “A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”?

I don’t want to give out any spoilers, but the secret is out. If you don’t want to know the secret then look away now…

For me at least, the secret is that I have stopped drinking alcohol and eating chocolate and started taking the dog on longer walks… yeah, suddenly people aren’t so keen to know the secret when I tell them what it is. What they want is to be allowed to live the exact same lifestyle, but also lose weight. Having their cake and eating it and then not having to go to the gym.

US President Barack Obama is pulled by the family’s new six-month old Portuguese water dog Bo as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 14, 2009. (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

“You should write a diet book,”people tell me.

The problem is that the “secret” of losing weight is quite hard to stretch out to the length of a paperback. I am struggling to make it fill an 850-word newspaper column given the secret is four words long. “Eat less, move more.”

To be fair, that’s not entirely it. It’s possible to lose weight by eating a lot less and not bothering with the moving bit or eating more and moving much more. Basically the “secret” is if you burn up more calories than you consume you’ll lose weight and if you consume more calories than you burn up, you’ll put on weight.

Still not a book, though, is it?

No one needs a diet book. You already know how to lose weight, you just have to work out if you actually want to. It’s totally fine if you don’t. No diet book tells you that because making you feel bad about yourself is their whole chocolate-coated raison d’être. Personally I decided that I’d like to give myself a better chance of seeing my young children reach adulthood.

To me that seemed more important than the limited pleasure I was getting from pouring a family pack of Giant Chocolate Buttons down my neck every afternoon.

The sun illuminates a promotional ice cream cone outside a beachside shop (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

I didn’t need a book. I just worked out what I still wanted (a Solero a day, it turns out) and what I didn’t. If you think about it, if diet books worked there wouldn’t be any diet books. Maybe just one. The one that worked.

There are thousands of diet books and it doesn’t seem like people are getting thinner. I’m thinking that maybe the diet books are the problem. In medieval times nearly everyone was skinny, apart from Henry VIII, and looking at the amount of chicken legs he ate, I think he might have been on Atkins. Diets make you think there is a secret, when there is only the bloody obvious. They make you think that they know what’s good and bad for you, when only you know that. They want to make you feel like you should be unhappy and only they can make you happy. But only you can make you happy.

I am not saying that I won’t slip back into the old ways – experience tells me that I will. It’s just about finding that balance in your eating and moving life and then maintaining it. That’s the tricky bit.

It’s something I plan to explore in my new diet book, You Don’t Need a Diet Book, which I confidently predict will destroy the diet book industry and become the only available diet book (because it’s the only one that works).

And then be unavailable because no one will need to diet any more because they will have accepted who they are or what they need to do to be the person they want to be.

But what do I know? I’m obese (but happy).


I have been…


The Day Shall Come, Chris Morris’s new film about the FBI funding and encouraging crackpot, though harmless, potential terrorists in order to further their careers.
It’s funny and depressing and weird in equal measure. That it is based on true stories would be jaw-dropping if the world hadn’t clearly gone so crazy in recent years. Marchánt Davis is all too believable as Moses Al Shabaz, but most enjoyable is the wrestle with morality undertaken by the FBI agent played by Anna Kendrick (left). Does morality win? I mean it’s 2019, so that might give you a clue.


To The Irish Passport podcast. With many UK citizens reclaiming their Irish roots and the citizenship of their grandparents, this podcast is a thorough, sobering and entertaining examination of Ireland past and present.
Perhaps if UK schools had taught us as much as Naomi O’Leary and Tim Mc Inerney do in every episode, then we might have been more prepared for the ramifications of that jolly referendum thing we had a few
years back.


Park Run. I have always enjoyed running, but never fancied taking part in this weekly event where all kinds of people, all round the UK, congregate in public spaces on Saturday mornings to run five kilometres. I started going back in June and now I am hooked. I recently attempted the deadly Woolacombe beach course which isn’t in a park, is scarcely in Woolacombe and has bits so steep that you can’t run. It was exhilarating.

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‘I was diagnosed with arthritis at 23 when I got pregnant – it was so painful I took early maternity leave’

Amy Devine-Devereux was a 23-year-old newly qualified nurse when, at seven months pregnant, the first signs of arthritis began creeping in. “I started having really agonising pain in my hips, not being able to walk around properly, and pain in my shoulder joint,” she recalls. “My hips got so painful that I ended up having to leave work for maternity leave a month earlier than I’d intended. Then, after I’d given birth, it all flared up.”

After a traumatic delivery, Amy hands and wrists swelled up within hours. “It really became obvious that things weren’t right,” she says. “Some of my first memories of that time are not being able to do the poppers on my daughter’s baby clothes, and not being able to hold her properly. When it was really difficult, I had to scoop my hands underneath her armpits and lift her up that way. Then, at other times, I could carry her around perfectly normally.”

After two months of GP appointments and referrals, Amy was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – an inflammatory auto-immune disease which affects 400,000 adults in the UK. Rheumatoid arthritis affects two to three times more women than men and, despite being most commonly diagnosed in those aged 40 to 60, appears to sometimes be triggered in younger women by pregnancy.

‘There is certainly a complex link between female factors, like pregnancy, and the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, but it’s a difficult topic to study in detail’ – Dr Ian Giles

“This seems to be linked to the immune system being activated [in pregnancy] to not reject the foetus. Once the child is born, instead of the immune response ‘turning off’, it then starts to attack the healthy synovium membrane of the joints,” explains Clare Jacklin, CEO of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS).

There is limited research in this area, but a 2011 study suggested an association between pregnancy and an increased risk of developing an auto-immune disease (including RA), particularly during the first year after birth. However, scientists don’t yet fully understand why that is.

“There is certainly a complex link between female factors, like pregnancy, and the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, but it’s a difficult topic to study in detail,” explains Dr Ian Giles, a consultant in rheumatology at University College London Hospital (UCLH). So, while there are studies that have reported the onset of RA during and after pregnancy, there is not yet enough research to really explain the complicated relationship between the two. Equally, Dr Giles adds, there is no need for expectant mothers to worry: “It doesn’t mean pregnancy is a risk factor for developing RA in the postpartum period”.

‘I chose not to go on antidepressants, but I think I must have become depressed, thinking back to it now’ – Amy

For Amy, getting a diagnosis at two months postpartum was just the beginning. What followed was two years of trial and error with her doctors to find the right medication to control the condition. Coming to terms with all of that, while at the same time caring for a newborn, was “huge”, she says. “The pain and fatigue is the biggest thing. When you’ve got children you need your energy, and trying to really push myself was very difficult. I chose not to go on antidepressants, but I think I must have become depressed, thinking back to it now.”

“My pregnancy had to be very well planned”

Clare Latham, 33, was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis – a form of arthritis affecting children, which is slightly more common in girls - when she was just two-years-old
Clare Latham, 33, was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis – a form of arthritis affecting children, which is slightly more common in girls – when she was just two-years-old

For women with established arthritis too, the journey to motherhood can be a challenging one, which requires careful planning and, in some cases, changing to a baby safe medication before conceiving. “The best advice is always to plan in advance to conceive at a time when the disease is controlled on medication that’s safe to continue throughout pregnancy,” Dr Giles explains.

“Many forms of inflammatory arthritis do get better in pregnancy, but the risks of [the disease flaring up] are slightly different depending on the type of arthritis. By maintaining treatments that are safe, we would hopefully reduce the risk of the disease flaring postpartum, but unfortunately we don’t have a really good predictive test for either disease flare or disease remission in pregnancy,” he adds.

Clare Latham, 33, was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis – a form of arthritis affecting children, which is slightly more common in girls – when she was just two-years-old and, after several years in remission as a teen, suffered a flare up during her 20s.

‘The methotrexate had to be completely out of my system for at least three months before we could even start trying to conceive’ – Clare 

When doctors prescribed methotrexate – a drug which isn’t safe for use during pregnancy – for the long-term management of her condition, Clare says: “It got me thinking about how I would be able to start a family, and I found very little support at that time.”

Fortunately, she adds, “by the time my husband and I were ready to start trying, I was under the care of a brilliant rheumatologist who talked me through all the options and helped me move onto another medication. It had to be very well planned: the methotrexate had to be completely out of my system for at least three months before we could even start trying to conceive, and then I had to check the new medication was going to work and hold back any flare-ups.”

‘My son’s three months old and I can already feel my knees starting to swell back up’ – Clare 

Ten months later, Clare was pregnant and, after an initial flare-up in the first trimester, everything progressed smoothly. “I suspect the pregnancy hormones caused the arthritis to go into remission,” she says. “My pregnancy was closely monitored to check my child wasn’t being affected by my arthritis, and I gave birth to a perfect, healthy baby girl.”

Clare’s arthritis remained in remission for several months after her daughter’s birth, before swelling in her knee joints returned, but she has been less lucky with her second baby. “My son is three months old and I can already feel my knees starting to swell back up. He needs to have floor time, but I struggle to sit on the floor next to him for long periods of time,” she explains.

“My daughter’s now two so she is running around and it’s difficult to deal with her as well. I just keep thinking, if I can’t get the flare-ups back under control, how am I going to be able to play with my son and daughter as they grow up?”

“The first three years of my daughter’s life were horrendous”

'Those years were horrendous – everything from going to get the baby weighed, getting her in and out of the car seat, and going to baby classes where everyone else was sat on the floor and I needed a chair', says Siobhan
‘Those years were horrendous – everything from going to get the baby weighed, getting her in and out of the car seat, and going to baby classes where everyone else was sat on the floor and I needed a chair’, says Siobhan

For 52-year-old Siobhan Williams, who was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis when she was 23, there was much less guidance available when she started planning to have a family in her 30s. “My first rheumatologist was really rubbish. It had taken ten years to get my condition under control, but they just said ‘come off the medication and see how you get on.’ It was really bad. Within two months I couldn’t walk and was back on sticks,” she says.

“I was very fortunate through a member of the family to be given the name of another rheumatologist, who was also an obstetrician. She put me on medication that was safe for the first couple of months of pregnancy, and that got my condition back under control within a year,” Siobhan adds.

While taking the new medication, she became pregnant at 38. “I then came off all medication because my condition went into remission during pregnancy, which was amazing. They did tell me it would come back when the baby was about six weeks old and, after six weeks pretty much to the day, I woke up one morning and basically couldn’t move,” she explains.

“I was very familiar with my condition, and I knew it was going to come back with a vengeance, so I just needed to find the right medication to sort me out, but it took three years to get it back under control. Those years were horrendous – everything from going to get the baby weighed, getting her in and out of the car seat, and going to baby classes where everyone else was sat on the floor and I needed a chair,” Siobhan says.

But when her baby was three, Siobhan says she finally found a medication that worked. “I haven’t looked back. She’s 13 now, and I’ve really appreciated all the little things over the last ten years, like being able to run around and play with her. It was amazing to finally feel like a proper mum.”

National arthritis charity Versus Arthritis has detailed information and advice on pregnancy and planning for a baby if you live with arthritis.

The charity also has a free helpline available from 9am to 8pm Monday to Friday, on 0800 5200 520 for anyone looking for advice or support with their condition.

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Conservatives and Labour are shedding good MPs for defying the leadership

Our democracy faces clear and present danger right now. We have a Government which may well have broken the law. We have a Prime Minister whose word means nothing and may not obey the law.

But there’s another grave threat. Who will represent us when the next parliament returns after the general election – whenever that will be? The shock withdrawal of the whip from 21 Conservative MPs was genuinely breath-taking. Mainly because we all thought it would be the Labour leadership who presided over a “Stalinist purge” of pesky disobedient MPs. It’s typical; Labour give it the big one about de-selections and then the Tories only go and do it properly.…

The sword of Damocles hangs over many Labour MPs who face trigger ballots which could see them deselected. The Labour MP for Hull North Diana Johnson has been triggered and others are worried and spending time (and a lot of money) trying to fight off Momentum on their patch.

This is also having a chilling effect on what they may normally say about big issues on which they may disagree with their leader. Like Brexit. Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn and their advisers have decided to crack the whip with MPs who disagree with them. They have decided that dead eyed, mindless loyalty to the leadership, no matter how badly it behaved or how incoherent the line to take may be – is now, not just desirable, but critical.

Rory Stewart has ruled out standing against Boris Johnson
Rory Stewart has ruled out standing against Boris Johnson (Photo: AFP/Getty)

I admire those who have the guts to speak out on both sides when it has – or could – cost their job. From Rory Stewart to Tom Watson.

But what does this mean for the future? I worry that with a general election on the horizon, we will see parties select candidates who will parrot the politics of the leader, who will toe the line, show slavish devotion, with no danger of any critical thinking and will be docile, dumbed-down lobby fodder.

Many will rise up quickly through the ranks and soon appear on our airwaves trotting out such embarrassing, moronic defences of their leaders, we may one day look back and remember Kwasi Kwarteng and Richard Burgon rather fondly. Maybe not. And with both parties adopting such an authoritarian approach, why would any bright, independent minded, intelligent person want to be an MP right now?

Amber Rudd appeared on Andrew Marr on Sunday morning following her explosive resignation (Photo: BBC)

MPs are sent to Parliament to represent the best interests of their constituents using their own wit and judgement not to be supplicants.

Most people go into politics because they are characters, have views and opinions and have made a name for themselves for being a strong individual. Many impressive candidates I know, who were selected a while ago, are watching in horror as their parties morph into something rather oppressive and are seriously questioning whether this is what they signed up for. And who could blame them when we are seeing so many decent MPs resigning because they are fed up.

With all the turmoil we face as a country, we need the best and the brightest people in Parliament who won’t be afraid to say what they think and who will not be toadying yes men and women.

Ayesha Hazarika is Editor of the Londoner, Evening Standard

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‘I thought I was going mad’: Meg Matthews on how the menopause affected her

My experience with the menopause began long before I even knew it was menopause. I didn’t know the menopause could cause the things I was feeling. I was experiencing terrible insomnia, I had so many aches and pains. My anxiety was through the roof. I had one of the worst menopause experiences that I know of, yet I had no idea that it was the menopause.

Nothing had set me up for this. There was no information available and I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t know if I was getting some disease, or arthritis, or if I had to go see a neurologist because of the awful headaches I was having. I honestly thought I was going mad; I would cry at everything. I could break down over an ad on TV. I would lose my temper so easily – my poor family got the worst of it. I would forget my car keys in the car or walk into a shop and forget what I went there for in the first place.

‘I was too anxious to go meet friends, I would snap at my daughter over nothing’

Nothing was making sense to me. I was always someone who had their life together, the head of my family, and all of a sudden, I was this different person. It was such a frightening experience, and there was no support out there.

This all took a series toll on all my relationships. I was too anxious to go meet friends, I would snap at my daughter over nothing, and because none of us knew what was happening, nobody could understand.

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Painful sex during menopause: ‘Women can be terrified of intimacy’

Louise Minchin: The BBC studio now has a ‘Louise’ air con setting because of my menopause flushes

After years of struggling, the menopause was finally mentioned, but there was not much information readily available, and my doctors weren’t very educated on the topic either. So I had to do a lot of research. I was desperate to know what was happening to my body, I needed to know a way to help fix my situation, even just a little. What I found was such vital information that I wanted to share it.

And that is why I started MegsMenopause, a website for women to feel educated on the menopause and to understand what they were going through. I didn’t want other women to experience what I had experienced, to feel the way I felt with no support around them. Not knowing what to do to feel better or who to talk to. I then created the MM nutrition, skincare and intimate care range, because these products for menopausal women weren’t readily available. Women should not be afraid of needing lube because of the menopause, or be afraid of being open about all things menopause and their body.

‘Now that my family and friends all know what I am going through, they are more able to help and support me’

Now my experience is much different. Not only because I’m getting further through the menopause, but because there is so much more help out there now. I now know about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and testosterone levels. I know about the changes that happen in my body and why I may need different vitamins than I did before. That I had to change my workout schedule to accommodate for my aching joints.

I know I have support out there. Now that my family and friends all know what I am going through, they are more able to help and support me. I no longer feel alone.

The menopause is one of the hardest stages in many women’s lives. It can be different for everyone, there are 34 symptoms, and any woman could be experiencing a different combination of each at any given moment. I grew up thinking the menopause was simply hot flushes and losing your period. It’s so much more than that. I had a terrible experience, but all women don’t have to.

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Boris Johnson is talking up a No Deal, but he knows it would be a disaster

In 2015, David Cameron won an election promising to cut taxes for everyone earning above £50,000 and everyone earning less than £12,500, to cut the welfare budget by £12.5bn, to protect the value of pensions and to balance the budget by 2018.

The problem is that these promises weren’t compatible with one another, and Cameron had also tied his hands further by pledging not to increase a wide variety of taxes.

His only way of meeting his promises was to embark on a series of painful cuts to working-age benefits – the resulting budget detonated the leadership hopes of his closest ally George Osborne, collapsed his own popularity, and given how angry it made many Labour voters, may have helped cause Brexit, too.

Why did he do it? The answer is that his 2015 promises weren’t ever supposed to be enacted.

The budget in 2013. (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The manifesto was designed to be popular, not deliverable. They pledged tax cuts to draw a contrast with Ed Miliband and Ed Balls’ plans to introduce a 50p rate for the highest earners, and promised to cut taxes for the least well-off to insulate themselves from the charge that they were a party for the rich.

They promised to cut the welfare budget in order to show how much tougher than Labour they were, but opted to protect pensions because their path to Downing Street ran through retired voters.

Although Cameron and Osborne thought that they could see off Labour and buy themselves a little wriggle room at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, they didn’t expect to do quite such a good job of killing off their junior partners. When one senior Liberal Democrat asked Osborne how on Earth he thought the Conservatives could keep their promises on the deficit without raising taxes, Osborne’s response was that Alexander would have to make him when the two parties renewed their coalition – and that as a result, the Tories would get the electoral benefit and the Liberal Democrats would get the blame.

The problem was that Cameron did a little too well – the Liberal Democrat in question didn’t even make it back to Parliament, let alone Cabinet. They were stuck with having to keep their promises.

Now Boris Johnson risks ending up in a similar position. He has promised to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union on 31 October, whether we have a deal with the EU or not.

Protestors are seen during an anti-Brexit protest, outside the Houses of Parliament in London
An anti-Brexit protest, outside the Houses of Parliament in 2019 REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

MPs have complicated his path to that aim, by legally mandating that he seek an extension to the Brexit process, and he has very little hope, unless he finds some procedural trick to follow the spirit but not the letter of the law, of taking the UK out of the EU by that date.

But he continues to talk up the necessity of preparing for a no-deal Brexit in order to get a deal.

While Cameron’s overriding aim was to defeat Labour, Johnson’s is to kill off the Brexit party: and that means talking up a no-deal Brexit.

As the government’s own projections for a reasonable assessment of how no deal would play out, no-deal would cause disruption because after we leave, the obligations that other EU nations have to us would lapse, causing big delays at British ports, which would slow the flow of food, medicine and fuel into the country.

One way that government can combat this is by stockpiling, and the other way is expanding the size of our port infrastructure. Effectively every British port presupposes EU membership and the swift turnarounds of goods that allows – to manage no deal, we would need to greatly expand the size of our infrastructure to do it properly.

Being prepared for no-deal and expanding our port infrastructure is to Boris Johnson what cutting the deficit and pensioner perks was to David Cameron: you can’t really do the former without doing the latter, but building lots of big new bits of infrastructure is unpopular, while no-deal is popular, at least among the Brexit party voters that Johnson is targeting.

The government’s no deal preparations themselves reference this problem: one of the biggest no-deal problems is that businesses and households aren’t really prepared for a no-deal Brexit, because the government’s instructions on it oscillate wildly from the gung-ho “Get Ready” – the slogan of the government’s no deal advertising campaign – to the cautious “Don’t Worry”, the message they roll out whenever they are asked to comment about the detail of no deal.

The problem for Boris Johnson is that like David Cameron, victory may simply hand him a cheque he can’t cash.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman

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I’ve missed out on going to the cinema all my life – just because I’m deaf

I became deaf at the age of four on a family holiday. I contracted typhoid, and the only treatment that could save my life involved incredibly powerful medication. While I survived the typhoid, the side effects left me profoundly deaf.

My mum and dad reacted as any parent would – they were devastated. But from day one, they instilled in me a powerful belief that my deafness would never hold me back. Despite some setbacks, I’ve achieved what I wanted in life, had a career I’ve loved, and have raised an incredible family. But today, some of the biggest barriers in my life come from the smallest things being inaccessible.

It wasn’t until I was in in my late twenties that I first went to the cinema. Up until then, I could only see foreign language films because subtitles for mainstream films were non-existent.
Things have slowly improved, but the cinema industry is still painfully inaccessible to deaf people. On the rare occasion a film is subtitled, the showings are at odd times. Who wants to go to the cinema at 9am on a Sunday morning or at midnight on a Tuesday?

I know what it’s like to miss out on all the gossip as my friends discuss the film they saw the night before. I know how isolating it is to be the one person not to get the banter, not to understand the reference, to be cut off from the conversation because you couldn’t see the film everyone is talking about.

But even as I grew up, this didn’t change. If anything it got worse. I couldn’t take my children to the cinema. I had to explain to them that it wasn’t because I hated films or because I didn’t want to go with them. I couldn’t enjoy the summer’s biggest blockbuster or the latest Christmas release with my kids. They had to go with other children’s parents which really rankled.

Even now when friends and colleagues talk about the latest film they have seen I still can’t join in.

Cinema can be magical – yet many dead children are excluded from the experience (Photo: WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

My experience isn’t unique. It’s replicated fifty thousand times over by deaf children growing up across the country. These children are just as bright as their hearing friends and they are just as deserving of an ordinary childhood.

The latest research from the National Deaf Children’s Society shows that this summer, deaf children had hardly any opportunities to go to the cinema. For one of this summer’s biggest children’s films, only 5% of cinemas put on a single subtitled showing. Worse still, not a single film was subtitled by more than half of the UK’s cinemas. When I was a child in the 1970s that was a sad reality. But for so little to have changed in 2019, it’s shameful.

Not going to the cinema isn’t just about missing an amazing film, it’s about being excluded from society just because you’re deaf. It’s about loneliness and isolation. It’s about not being valued, despite it being so easy for you to be included.

The technology exists so a deaf person can walk into any cinema in the country, to see any film they want. It happens in America. The National Theatre has rolled out captioning glasses for all of their productions in London.

The magic of the cinema might not seem like the greatest, grandest, most important battle for equality. But it matters. For all those kids sat in the corner of the playground, not having the childhood everyone else takes for granted, it matters.

We need to see change now, and it’s shocking we haven’t seen it already.

Susan Daniels OBE is the Chief Executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society

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No-deal Brexit would hurt millions of BME Brits who have been totally ignored in debates

Leave campaign posters of brown people apparently queuing to get into Britain is the only visible way ethnic minority people have featured in raging Brexit debates or negotiations. The various reasons black and minority ethnic (BME) people have for voting for Brexit, or voting Remain, and the implications of on them of any form of Brexit have been largely ignored by politicians and media alike. This despite the fact that the size of Britain’s ethnic minority communities is larger than the population of Scotland and Wales combined.

Ethnic minority voting patterns in the 2016 EU referendum are often simplified and misunderstood. While overall ethnic minorities voted Remain, it is significant that a third of British Asians voted Leave, and even this pattern varied across the regions. Meanwhile, in the three years since the Brexit referendum, a “mega poll” conducted by Survation and Channel 4 has shown that local authorities with high numbers of ethnic minority Leave voters would now switch to Remain if another referendum were to take place.

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Four BAME voters on why they voted Leave

We already know that Brexit will have a negative impact on poorer households, but there are strong reasons for thinking that a no deal Brexit will make it harder for vulnerable and lower income groups to weather the economic uncertainties. This includes many ethnic minority groups – a large number of whom are in low paid work, spend a large proportion of their income on rent and have very little disposable income for meals and other goods. Increases in the prices of food, which Michael Gove recently admitted is a very real scenario in the event of no deal, is therefore likely to have a much larger impact on ethnic minority families with lower incomes.

Johnson’s threats of ending freedom of movement immediately after 31 October is also likely to affect foreign BME workers (Photo: PA)

A no deal Brexit would also mean that manual workers, such as those working in the clothing industry, or plant and machine operators, would be particularly vulnerable to job losses in the face of rising production costs, increased global competition and greater tariffs on exports. Notably Pakistani and Bangladeshi men are twice as likely as white British men to work in these sectors, and are less likely to have skills transferable to other sectors.

For anyone in part-time, temporary or zero-hour contract work – covering a disproportionate number of BME people and women – there are also serious concerns about what will happen to employee rights, safety regulations and guaranteed work hours. If the UK fails to secure a deal with the EU before the October deadline the UK will be in a weaker trade position, and countries like the US can demand whatever they want, including reducing regulatory barriers in trade negotiations.

Johnson’s threats of ending freedom of movement immediately after 31 October is also likely to affect foreign BME workers. It’s not just a question of hospitals running out of necessary drugs in the event of a no deal Brexit; it’s also about the fact that around 13 per cent of NHS staff are foreign nationals, including more than 45,000 professionals from Asia and 21,000 from African countries.

Women, ethnic minorities and disabled groups have been hit the hardest by austerity cuts under the Coalition and Conservative Governments, but there’s little indication that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, will reverse and restore these cuts

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that Johnson’s Government have not even planned for an alternative deal, let alone undertaken any impact assessments on what a no deal will mean for different sectors of the economy and groups of people with protected characteristics. And despite assurances from Boris Johnson that he will end “austerity-era restraints” there appear to be few plans outside of Brexit to buffer the crippling cuts to welfare and social security reforms in the last ten years.

there’s little indication that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, will reverse and restore these cuts and lift working families out of poverty (Photo: Getty)

Women, ethnic minorities and disabled groups have been hit the hardest by austerity cuts under the Coalition and Conservative Governments, but there’s little indication that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, will reverse and restore these cuts and lift working families out of poverty – as evident in the Chancellor’s announcements in this week’s Spending Review. Instead the Chancellor has released £100m to Boris Johnson’s “Get Ready” for (‘no deal’) Brexit campaign – a slap in the face for those just about managing, including nurses in the NHS, who have been told repeatedly that there is “no magic money tree”.

If the economic downturn projections about no deal are accurate, we should also be concerned about increases in social grievances and resentment against minority groups in the face of scarcity. We already know that the politics of economic and cultural resentment drove much of the Leave vote, but a no deal Brexit is likely to exacerbate the economic positions of these “left behind” voters and increase their resentment towards minority groups.

Reports have claimed No10 under Boris Johnson have been secretly polling “culture war” issues, such as transgender rights, in northern working-class towns in order to identify issues that they can weaponise against Labour in the event of a general election. (Downing Street has denied this). This would be highly concerning for BME, Muslim and visible European groups who have already suffered the brunt of hate abuse and hate crime in the run up to and after the Brexit vote in 2016.

Moreover, there is significant evidence to suggest that in the event of a general election, Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party are more likely to court the populist vote (and right-wing Brexit Party vote) at the expense of moderate BME voters, given their lack of popularity with BME and Muslim voters in previous national and mayoral elections.

Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament, removal of the whip from 21 senior MPs and threats to call a general election not only highlight a desperate Prime Minister trying to silence any opposition to his plans, but one still largely involved in an intra-Conservative civil war about the European Union. What’s obvious is that neither Johnson nor his Cabinet are too concerned about having a democratically-backed mandate for withdrawal from the EU, but what’s less clear is the harm that a no deal Brexit could inflict on ethnic minority groups, women on lower incomes, and other vulnerable groups. This is why it’s more important than ever to avoid a no deal Brexit and halt the worrying direction of travel towards Trump-style politics of division.

This article originally appeared on The Runnymede Trust website. Runnymede is the UK’s leading independent race equality think tank. 

Dr Zubaida Haque is the Deputy Director of The Runnymede Trust. 

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Why it’s time to start taxing people on the wealth they accumulate from property

In Britain today, housing tenure is as important a social division as income or class. Ask anyone under the age of 35 what they would like to see happen to house prices and you’ll likely get a very different response to that of a 50-year-old homeowner who benefited from the astronomical price rises of the 90s and early 00s. 

When Margaret Thatcher set about deregulating the private rented sector in 1988, doing away with rent controls and making it easier than ever for landlords to evict their tenants in an attempt to encourage more to enter the market and fill the gaps in provision being left by a social housing sell off under right to buy, it was all done in the name of liberating the housing market and giving people more choice. 

While she succeeded in creating a booming buy to let sector, this delivered anything but choice. Young people and those on low incomes can’t afford to buy homes and rely on the whims of private landlords who can evict them at any time. Many are forced to pay extortionate rents which have outpaced wages and tens of thousands are languishing in temporary accommodation because there isn’t enough social housing, sometimes for decades. 

With every new arrival in Number 10, silver bullets start flying around as they tell us how committed they are to solving the housing crisis. The problem, though, is that they are usually delivering the same tired old message: “We need to build more”. It’s unimaginative and it belies a complete lack of understanding of the problems we face. 

‘Landowners have been able to sit back, relax and enjoy windfall gains at a faster rate than wages have grown, while those in work scrape by to afford rents and get themselves into ever more debt’

In recent years, the ease with which someone could go from renting to living in a van because they can no longer afford to pay a landlord, or fall on hard times after an eviction and end up sleeping in a shipping container, while anyone who has bought property can confidently watch its value rise faster than wages, shows the sheer scale of our society’s failure to house people appropriately. 

It is this that needs addressing – wealth inequality. It has changed the fabric of our society, perhaps forever, with housing inequality influencing the Brexit vote, and yet it never is addressed. Landowners have been able to sit back, relax and enjoy windfall gains at a faster rate than wages have grown, while those in work scrape by to afford rents and get themselves into ever more debt in an attempt to get on the housing ladder.  

Earlier this week the Institute for Public Policy Research called for the Government to tax wealth in the same way it taxes income from work. As things stand, the richest people are more likely to get income from wealth and can actually end up paying less tax than those in work. Data shows half of England is owned by less than one per cent of the population, so playing the property market really does pay. By any other name this is feudalism. 

But, what if there was another solution? Not a silver bullet but something that could actually redress this inequality – implementing land value taxes.

The notion that we need to implement a land value tax in Britain is nothing new. It was advocated by American economist Henry George in the late 1800s as a way of reducing economic rents. In the UK, the eighteenth century economist Adam Smith was a fan too, advocating for “ground rents” in The Wealth of Nations. Land value taxes became a key idea for the Liberal Party at the start of the twentieth century with David Lloyd George arguing we needed to “to free the land that from this very hour is shackled with the chains of feudalism.” Boris Johnson’s hero Winston Churchill was also keen on the idea at the start of his career. 

Why we need tax breaks for renters

As housing inequality grows, reinforcing Britain’s wealth gap, the case for a land value tax has never been stronger. As Josh Ryan-Collins, Toby Lloyd and Laurie Macfarlane argue in Rethinking The Economics Of Land And Housing, the advantages would include reducing the distortions created by investment decisions in a volatile housing market, lowering property prices by making speculation less attractive and making landowners think seriously about how much property they want to hold because of the associated costs. 

Of course, property transactions are currently taxed via stamp duty which has had some success when it comes to calming down the buy to let market. But, as things stand, we do not tax the wealth that land accrues over time.

We could go even further. We could also consider tax breaks for renters who, proportionally, spend more of their income on housing than those with mortgages. As the population of renters grows, so too does the number of people spending increasing amounts on housing and getting nothing in return. Of course, none of this would be politically easy to achieve. It wouldn’t make everyone happy, but no solution to the housing crisis will. 

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What begin vegan can say about you other than your ethics

Revered French gastronome Jean Brillat-Savarin coined the phrase: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are”. He wasn’t wrong. If you’re someone who thinks about your food choices, its probably in terms of health or ethics. But they are also intimately connected with identityclass, and ideology.

Kosher and Halal foods are a signal of religious affiliation. Caviar and gold leaf hint at wealth. The enjoyment of wine has as much to do with what it’s served in as its taste.

But what of meat? Due to its cost, meat consumption in Western societies has been linked with higher status, power, wealth and masculinity for centuries.

In medieval England, peasant diets would be almost wholly vegetarian. Meat was the preserve of royal and aristocratic households, where the hunt became part of male rites of passage, but also power over the natural world. This gendered and class-based structuring of access to meat continued well into the second half of the 20th century, since the best cuts were reserved for the patriarch of the family.

‘Plant-based diets come with burdens – and successfully navigating them can help vegans to promote an image of upward mobility in contemporary consumer society’

In many ways, veganism challenges these traditions. Vegans, for instance, are more likely to be young and female than old and male. The lifestyle also challenges traditional norms of masculinity. And instead of the hedonistic consumption associated with the upper classes, veganism is associated with restraint and discipline.

Yet, this restraint comes with its own social implications. As our new research shows, plant-based diets come with burdens – and successfully navigating them can help vegans to promote an image of upward mobility in contemporary consumer society.

We first studied how veganism was represented in more than 2,000 articles in the UK media. Then we conducted 20 in-depth interviews with middle-class consumers who were either vegans or closely acquainted with vegans. We mapped how they perceived veganism, including its relationship to class and character. Analysing data from the interviews and the media together, we identified five key burdens associated with the vegan lifestyle, and the social signals that successfully navigating them sends.

‘It is possible to eat vegan cheaply, but doing so costs time for a diet that is already time-intensive – both in terms of shopping and food preparation’

The first burden relates to knowledge. Vegans generally need to be not only vigilant about ingredients, but able to unpack their meaning for animal welfare, climate change, sustainability, and personal health. The accomplished vegan therefore signals a wealth of knowledge in a society where educational attainment has high social value.

Financial wealth is useful too. Vegan products and replacement ingredients are often expensive, and not within every household’s budget. It is possible to eat vegan cheaply, but doing so costs time for a diet that is already time-intensive – both in terms of shopping and food preparation. Navigating these demands signals that you have at least a little money – or at least time – to spare, as well as efficiency and time management skills, which are desirable qualities in the world of work.

Finally, veganism often requires fortitude and discipline – both to deny oneself short-term hedonistic pleasures in the commitment to ethical principles, and to fend off the typical perception of vegans as troublesome or challenging guests. Managing these emotional and social burdens signals resilience and goal-seeking behaviour in a competitive environment, and the likely presence of a strong social network support.

‘Our respondents recognised that the challenges of veganism can be used to signal social status and, if originating from a lower socioeconomic class, an upward trajectory in one’s fortunes’

Consumers are rarely actively pursuing social goals when going vegan. But at a sociological level, it does present opportunities to communicate personal attributes that are considered useful in contemporary society: knowledgeable, disciplined, able to support oneself, but also able to form social connections. Rather than only engaging with food for pleasure, our respondents recognised that the challenges of veganism can be used to signal social status and, if originating from a lower socioeconomic class, an upward trajectory in one’s fortunes.

Of course, the ethical and environmental aspects are still – for many people – the major motivation to be vegan. But as other recent research of ours shows, thanks to recent celebrity uptake of the diet, veganism is no longer a purely moral movement at the periphery of society, but also a desirable lifestyle choice considered trendy in mainstream culture. Indeed, Beyoncé’s undertaking of a 22-day vegan challenge helped interest in veganism to explode.

The ethos of veganism itself is an admirable and strongly held altruistic conviction among many of its practitioners – but it also plays an important role in curating your personal image. Perhaps Brillat-Savarin’s dictum should now read: “Tell me who you want to be and I will tell you what to eat!”

Lecturer in Marketing at Cass Business School, City, University of London. is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Groningen. This piece originally appeared in The Conversation

The Conversation

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The out-of-date Operation Yellowhammer document fails to justify the doom-mongers’ scare stories

We now finally all have sight of the official Yellowhammer briefing, but I’m not sure it was worth the wait. The newly-published summary – of the Government’s ‘Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions’ in a no-deal Brexit scenario – certainly does not support the widespread claims that even the Government thinks ‘crashing out of the EU without a deal’ would inevitably lead to ‘shortages of food, medicines and petrol’.

For a start, it cannot be stressed often enough that this document is a list of things that might go wrong, for the purposes of contingency planning, not forecasts of what will actually happen. As the document put it, these are ‘reasonable worst case planning assumptions’. Some have claimed that the version leaked earlier referred to a ‘base case’ assessment, but the same point would still apply.

This is a common misunderstanding of what risk assessments are about. For example, the Bank of England published its own no-deal study in November last year, which referred to some very large falls in GDP. However, in the words of the Bank itself, ‘this analysis includes scenarios not forecasts’. Bank economists deliberately chose extreme assumptions to produce worst-case numbers, mainly for the purpose of stress testing the financial system.

The Yellowhammer report is also old. A lot has been made of the fact that it is dated 2nd August, but many of the points are already looking stale. Paradoxically, Amber Rudd’s parting shot that the government is now spending 80-90% of its time preparing for ‘no deal’ is rather reassuring.

For example, the fourth bullet refers to ‘EU Exit fatigue, due to the second extension of Article 50, which will limit the effective impact of current preparedness communication’. But since then, the Government has launched a major campaign to help and encourage everyone to ‘Get Ready for Brexit’.

The section on Ireland provides another illustration. The document notes that the ‘agri-food sector will be the hardest hit’. But there is now growing support for an all-Ireland regime for agri-foods. The UK Government could also still go further. One interesting proposal is to make it an offence under UK law to export any good to the EU that fails to meet EU standards. Combined with the clear political commitment not to erect a hard border on the UK side, this would punt the problem right back to the EU, which is arguably where it belongs in the first place.

The document also includes several statements of the bleeding obvious. Some have seized on the one-liner that ‘low income groups will be disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel’. Equally, of course, these groups would disproportionately benefit from any reductions in the prices of food and fuel. The single most important variable here will be the impact on the value of the pound, on which the document is (wisely) silent. Given how much bad news is already priced in, I would not be surprised to see sterling recover strongly even in the weeks following a ‘no deal’ exit.

Above all, an awful lot hinges on the degree of disruption to cross-Channel trade. (In the words of the report, ‘analysis to date has suggested a low risk of significant sustained queues at ports outside of Kent which have high volumes of EU traffic.’) But it is in the section on cross-Channel trade where the significance of ‘worst case’ is most apparent.

For example, the assumption that flow via the short Channel straits could be reduced to as low as 40% of normal is explicitly described as a ‘pre-mitigation reasonable worst case’. Indeed, the words ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘could’ and ‘up to’ have to do a lot of work throughout this section. Even then, this pessimistic assessment recognises that delays are likely to reduce over time as systems improve and more traders adapt. Correspondingly, if the Brexit deadline is extended further, the risk of short-term disruption would be reduced further, as all parties would have had more time to prepare.

This in turn is where the scare stories about food shortages come in. Here at least there is a recognition that there will not an ‘overall shortage of food in the UK’, even if there is temporary disruption to the supply of some fresh products. 

Other parts of the report are highly speculative. For example, it is suggested that ‘a rapid SEM [Single Electricity Market] split could occur months or years after EU Exit’, which could lead to ‘significant electricity price increases’. But why? There is no good reason to expect this. Similarly, there’s a section on the risk to the adult social care market from ‘an increase in inflation following EU exit’. Again, why? Is this really the biggest issue in this sector?

I also wonder how many people who are parroting the warnings about petrol shortages have looked at the flimsy basis for these headlines. The UK is planning to reduce tariffs unilaterally on some imported fuels in the event of no deal, which would lower costs to consumers. Despite this, the industry lobby, UKPIA, has done a grand job of pushing the protectionist argument that cheaper imports might drive some domestic refiners out of business.

However, tariffs on fuels are very low to begin with – and many are already zero. Any change is also likely to be swamped by movements in the value of sterling. If it is true that some refiners are already operating on the brink, wouldn’t we still be better off with cheaper imports from sources which may actually be more secure? And if there were a real problem here, wouldn’t it be easy to decide even now just to leave tariffs where they are? 

You also have to wonder why so many people think it beyond our ability to fast-track imports of essential medicines, including by air, even if there are significant delays at Channel ports. Of course, it’s the duty of doctors to raise concerns about the risks to patients if particular drugs are in short supply. But a medical background does not make you an expert in cross-border logistics. I would give more weight here to the views of port managers and customs officials, who are telling us they are now much better prepared.

Overall, then, the Yellowhammer report contains little new. Opponents of any form of Brexit will make the most of it, but no-one should think it describes what it is actually likely to happen.

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With communities struggling, Boris Johnson may need more than Brexit to win a general election

Boris Johnson has not enjoyed the jolliest start as Prime Minister.

He has lost the Conservative Party’s majority. He has lost control of the business of Parliament, in the process of losing his first six parliamentary votes.

Now he has become the first PM found by a court to have misled the sovereign.

Next Tuesday the legal tussle over Mr Johnson’s shutdown of Parliament heads to the Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction for the entire UK.

Parliament versus people

Boris Johnson has suspended Parliament (PA)

Regardless of the result there, this latest ruling from Scotland could play into his hands.

When he (and adviser Dominic Cummings) get their early general election, they are likely to fight on a people versus Parliament ticket: “tell them again”.

The sense of a British establishment lined up to thwart Brexit – however nuanced the reality, and however uneasy such a campaign leaves some Conservative MPs – is potent stuff in Brexit heartlands.

And yet… Mr Johnson will need more than Brexit to really win over struggling communities who voted Leave.

Unsurprised by Brexit

Resurgent Lib Dems and Scottish nationalists threaten his hopes of a majority, while Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour are unpredictable, well-funded and dangerous because of it.

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Tory rebels who voted to block no-deal Brexit given a lifeline after Cabinet moderates lobby Boris Johnson

i readers were, largely, unsurprised by the Brexit referendum result.

After all, 85 per cent of you live outside London, many more than other quality titles, a fact that sharpens minds whenever I speak to political leaders. We tailor our coverage accordingly.

Without an economic plan to help revive hard-up communities around the UK, Mr Johnson will struggle to win the mandate he feels he deserves – and so face little prospect of holding office in another five years’ time.

Delivering Brexit may not be enough to save his bacon.

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Trade unionists should not believe the TUC drivel that Brexit will impact workers’ rights

It’s become a mantra, endlessly repeated by Remainer unions: “Workers must not pay the price of Brexit.” What price would that be? And how about acknowledging the price of staying in the EU?

On 6th July 2017, Michel Barnier, the EU Brexit negotiator, addressed the EU’s Economic and Social Committee. His words were noted and passed on to unions in Britain by the TUC delegate to the committee under a title saying that Barnier ‘spells out the truth’ about Brexit.

Barnier’s address, wrote Unite’s Martin Mayer with doe-eyed devotion, was ‘clinical in its analysis’ and ‘impressive in its clarity’. And he dubbed as ‘fatuous’ Theresa May’s statement that “Brexit means Brexit”. The TUC’s love affair with the EU was still going strong, despite the referendum.

At the meeting Judy McKnight, ex-TUC General Council and ex-General Secretary of the prison officers’ union – described as ‘Leader of UK Workers Group members’ although she is and was actually retired – repeated the worn old refrain that “workers must not pay the price of Brexit”. 

The TUC was campaigning back then for Britain to stay in the Single Market for as long as possible, under a transitional agreement, to ‘keep workers’ rights safe’. Now it has hardened its stance, calling for Britain to remain in both the Single Market and the Customs Union.

The Fire Brigades Union, for example, which in June suspended executive member Paul Embery for two years for speaking out in favour of Brexit, parrots every Project Fear statement put out by the Treasury. The union attacks the World Trade Organisation for being ‘neoliberal’ – but of course fails to say that the EU and the USA were trying to negotiate the TTIP treaty because the WTO isn’t neoliberal enough.

Nowhere do these euro-enthusiasts talk about the fact that the EU constitution sets all the key principles of neoliberalism in stone, effectively unchangeable – the free movement of goods, services, capital and ‘persons’ (this includes companies). That’s something that the bankers and transnational capitalists haven’t managed to get into a single national constitution outside the EU, not even the USA. In particular, they see the European Court of Justice as the guardian of workers’ rights. Yet it is anything but that.

Successive ECJ judgements have made it perfectly clear that the rights to free movement – of goods, labour, services and capital – come first. The right to strike in pursuance of what it calls social policy (jobs, pay, conditions, pensions) cannot, according to the Viking judgement, ‘automatically override’ these fundamental rights. 

More fundamentally, said ECJ Advocate General Poiares Maduro on 23rd May 2007, “the possibility for a company to relocate to a Member State where its operating costs will be lower is pivotal to the pursuit of effective intra Community trade.” There’s the EU, in a nutshell: it’s a fundamental right for a company to move from country to country in search of lower and lower labour costs.

The EU’s fundamental rights are all about the market. It’s a far cry from ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ or ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’. In effect, the EU acts as a superstate whose constitution embodies the freedom of capital and capitalists in a way unheard of in any other.

The first price that workers pay is that they must allow outsourcing and privatisation of national industries and services.

The second is that they cannot strike to stop work being outsourced to a cheaper country. The ECJ made the reasons for that very clear: “Without the rules on freedom of movement and competition it would be impossible to achieve the Community’s fundamental aim of having a functioning common market.”

And of course, there is the cost of the free movement of labour. It’s beyond doubt that it has hit unskilled workers in Britain particularly hard. It has lowered pay rates, and according even to the official Migration Advisory Committee, damaged the job prospects of lower skilled workers when the labour market is slack. 

It’s not just the unskilled. Without free movement how could the government have erected the massive tuition fees barrier to the training of nurses, midwives and other health professionals while understaffing runs through hospitals like a plague? And the laws of supply and demand are clearly operating in other areas too, such as academic pay.

The TUC not only backs this free movement but, astonishingly, thinks that Britain’s migration policy should be handled on our behalf by Brussels. “It is… more effective for migration flows to be managed through EU legislation rather than member states creating patch-work laws to deal with the issue”, it told a government inquiry into EU powers in 2013.

The odd thing about the TUC’s blather on ‘workers’ rights’ is that you might expect trade unions, of all bodies, to know that it is first and foremost through the existence and activity of unions that workers can establish and defend any rights that they have.

There is nothing – not a single sentence – in the draconian Trade Union Act 2016 that runs counter to EU law, nor in the even worse bits that David Cameron’s Government was forced to drop as the Bill made its way through Parliament.

Items that would not have bothered the EU included the proposed requirement for pickets to give their names to the police – an idea that Conservative MP David Davis objected to violently. “What is this? This isn’t Franco’s Britain”, he said, referring to the 40-year fascist dictatorship in Spain.

Yet the EU is supposed to guarantee ‘workers’ rights’!

And when collective action fails or is absent, the only recourse is often to an employment tribunal. Yet when the Government introduced huge fees for employment tribunals in 2013, and Unison brought a legal challenge, it was primarily to English law based on Magna Carta and enshrined in 1297 that the Supreme Court turned in 2017 to rule the fees unlawful. 

Back in 2015, Unite published a particularly biased leaflet called What has Europe ever done for us? (incorrectly equating Europe, a geographical fact, with the EU, a political construction). Among its outrageous claims was the oft-repeated notion that the EU ‘is also responsible for 3.5 million jobs in the UK’. The implication is that we would lose these jobs with Brexit. This is utter nonsense, though some politicians have said the same thing, and keep on saying it.  

Claims that three million or more jobs depend on Britain being in the EU appeared following the publication of a report by Dr Martin Weale in 2000 for the National Institute for Economic and Social Research. 

But the report did not say that these jobs would be lost if we left the EU. Far from it. It suggested that withdrawal may actually be good for us. It was the fault of politicians like Nick Clegg, John Prescott and Stephen Byers that the findings of this academic report were twisted. 

Weale was furious at this distortion, describing it as ‘pure Goebbels’ and saying, “in many years of academic research I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts.”

What, then, does the EU offer workers in the way of rights? Its defenders talk admiringly about working hours legislation – but what’s to admire? 

It is true that the EU brought in its Working Time Directive in the 1990s, incorporated into British law in 1998. But look closer. Brussels mandated a minimum holiday of 20 days – including public holidays. British law states that the minimum is 20 days excluding public holidays, making our minimum 28 days.

So, any government could cut statutory holidays by a full eight days without contravening any EU law. Not that you would hear this from the TUC, which continues to push out stories talking about, for example, 7 million people’s holiday pay being at risk.

“There is no guarantee that [the government after Brexit] would keep paid holiday entitlements at their current level, or at all,” claimed the TUC in a typical act of gratuitous scaremongering, turning a blind eye to the lower holiday pay rights in most of the EU. 

British maternity leave is another area where TUC alarmists have been trying to sow suspicion. Yet British law mandates up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, with Statutory Maternity Pay for up to 39 weeks. EU law? Pay and leave of up to 14 weeks.

And then there is health and safety. The TUC acknowledges that the government says it will transfer all existing health and safety protections from EU law to British law. But it adds, “there are no guarantees for what happens afterwards” – as if permanent future guarantees were possible.

“It should be written into the [Brexit] deal that the UK and EU will meet the same standards, for both existing rights and future improvements,” said Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary. 

This really is fatuous. It would leave Britain unable to improve its health and safety legislation unless the EU agreed to do the same, necessitating a negotiation with 27 member states. It would give Brussels sovereignty over workplace legislation in Britain, which is no kind of Brexit at all.

Back in 1988 the TUC waved the white flag and assumed that the only improvements in legislative protection for workers would come from Brussels. It’s still waving that flag, even though the EU itself acknowledges on its own website that “Responsibility for employment and social policy lies primarily with national governments.”

The truth is that our rights as workers have always existed only so far as workers have been prepared to fight for them and defend them. As long as we tolerate the employing class and the capitalist system, any rights we have will always be ‘at risk’. 

But for now, the urgent risk is that we fail to finish the job of the 2016 referendum. Nothing is so imminently threatening to the wellbeing of workers in Britain than allowing the independence process to be derailed.

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Carloway, Brodie and Drummond

All three judges in Scotland’s Highest Court of Appeal have ruled Prorogation to be unlawful. Lord President Carloway declared it: ‘unlawful to stymie parliamentary scrutiny’. Lord Brodie called it an: “egregious case” of failing public authority standards. Lord Drummond Young stated its: ‘purpose was to prevent scrutiny’. The reports of people tuning in to BBC […] Read More

It was a long week for us in the House of Lords, but the greatest casualty could be the reputation of Parliament

One of the most memorable opening sentences in Literature is Charles Dickens’ “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” His words, I thought, were bang on over the last week in the House of Lords.

The Best was a number of speeches from across the House, passionate, measured, loaded with facts and fired with precision. It spoke for a House which in part is arguably the most scholarly constitutional Chamber in the world. Its job is to revise and advise on what comes up from the elected House of Commons which always has the final say.

But over the subjects of the Prorogation and Brexit we also saw the Worst side of the House. This was exacerbated by the laughable lack of time allocated for what is probably the greatest decision taken by the House since 1939.

Lady Usher of the Black Rod Sarah Clarke (C) entering the House of Commons during the ceremony to prorogue (suspend) parliament. – (Photo: Getty)

Part of the House – the Government side – decided to attempt to block the No Deal majority decision taken in the House of Commons. They came not to argue against the substance but to attempt to ruin the essence. They constantly referred to the sacred power of the Referendum – a tactic largely alien to us brought in, disastrously, by David Cameron who thought he saw a quick fix to the problem of the Right Wing in his Party, made wholly inadequate preparations for it and when he lost ran away instead of staying to fight, as he could have done, to swing the decision back towards the massive Remain minority.

The better parts of this country have come from the persistence of minorities. Cameron could have made amends and even a fine name for himself.
On the Big Day last week Johnson sent his Government into battle in the Lords (or was this the bright idea of Generalissimo Cummings?) with the instruction to snarl up, block and in every way try to hinder the passing of a Bill already passed by the elected House of Commons. The weapon was the filibuster. This is rather a sprightly word for the blunt attempt to wreck a Bill.

So 92 amendments were put down, some of which had many clauses which could breed other clauses, and by midnight I think we had got to about clause 7.
There was a threat of talking through the night, and the next day, and the next night, and the next day, until the Monday morning. With no Speaker to control such a debate, the House of Lords was at the mercy of good sense which seemed to have been spirited away.

Members of parliament walking from the House of Commons to the House of Lords in London on September 10, 2019, during the ceremony to prorogue (suspend) parliament. -(Photo: HO/AFP/Getty)

Sleeping bags had been brought along by prescient Lords; one Baroness declared that she had brought several changes of underwear; plans were made for stop-off snacks along the way, or for the anaesthetic of regular visits to the Bar.  The governing Party in the Lords was defeated again and again, often embarrassingly. But on we trudged, through 17 votes, before about 1am. The times spent queuing to get through the lobby system, returning to the main Chamber, and waiting for the count often took up more time than the speeches in between.

What was revealed was the way in which our Parliament has so deeply slid into the mire. I attended all the Brexit debates in the Lords and never heard one coherent fact-filled persuasive speech that we would be better Out than In. Bluster was Brexit’s King.

There had been fears the House of Lords would attempt to filibuster to delay the progress of the bill
There had been fears the House of Lords would attempt to filibuster to delay the progress of the bill (Photo: AP)

It’s rather like the delusion of the Witches of Salem or a Moonie Cult when a section of the Public is motivated by a craze which soon afterwards appears to be inexplicable.

At last the deal was made and we were allowed out at about 1.30am on to the empty London streets. I walked past the magnificent Westminster Abbey, Big Ben shrouded in a sort of scaffolding shame, up Whitehall towards the triumphant Trafalgar Square. I felt sorriest of all for those in the working class background from which I came, many of whom voted Leave having been so cruelly misled. It is an unprecedented and gigantic act of self-harm and one of the greatest casualties could be the reputation of Parliament, which would be the greatest loss of all.

In 1998 Melvyn Bragg was appointed to the House of Lords as a Labour life peer: Lord Bragg of Wigton

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‘I had to live in one room with my daughter for 11 years’

England’s Lane Residence is in the London borough of Camden, a stone’s throw from some of the capital’s wealthiest and most exclusive neighbourhoods. Belsize Park sits just minutes away in one direction, Hampstead and Primrose Hill in others.

At first glance, you might not notice the 165-room building. Red brick, with white framed windows and surrounded by shiny black wrought iron railings, it doesn’t resemble what you might think of as temporary accommodation. While not technically a hostel in legal terms, the conditions inside comprise of small, self-contained studio units where homeless families are being housed for as long as 11 years which is anything but “temporary”.

England faces a social housing shortage and, as a result, the number of families in temporary accommodation is rising. The most recent quarterly statistics recorded 83,700 households – including 124,490 children – in temporary accommodation at the end of December 2018. That’s a 74 per cent increase since December 2010. Sixty eight per cent of these households were placed by London local authorities.

‘My daughter has lived almost her entire life in temporary accommodation. We just want a place that we can call home’ – Khadija

In the summer of 2008, 45 year-old Khadija*, a part time cleaner from Camden, was fleeing domestic violence. As a result she, like so many women who flee abusive partners but cannot afford the prices in the private rented sector, became homeless. “I applied as homeless to Camden Council in June that year,” she tells i. “My daughter was only four and we were given a room at England’s Lane.”

The unit they were given comprised of a bedroom, bathroom and a small kitchenette. The rooms were originally designed for single nurses working at the nearby Royal Free hospital. They were never designed for families.

A kitchenette at England's Lane, where homeless families who are housed there 'temporarily' can find themselves living at for years
A kitchenette at England’s Lane, where homeless families who are housed there ‘temporarily’ can find themselves living at for years

Khadija’s daughter is now 15. “The Council accepted a duty to house me, but I was not told how long this would take,” she says. “I never could have expected I would spend 11 years living in that room.” She has recently been moved to a small flat owned by a housing association. “This is definitely an improvement, but I have been told that it is still only temporary. I don’t know how long I am going to have to live here, and how long it is going to be before my daughter finally has a settled home. She is starting her GCSEs and stability is important for her. She’s lived almost her entire life in temporary accommodation. We just want a place that we can call home.”

Being moved into temporary accommodation has been found to have a serious impact on people’s mental and physical health. A report by Shelter concluded it can trigger depression, an increase in visits to doctors and hospitals because residents become more vulnerable to diseases like bronchitis and tuberculosis, as well as falling levels of self esteem.

‘I can’t have a partner here. I share a bedroom with my son, the kitchen is in that bedroom and guests have to leave by 11pm. I feel like I’m 14’

Khadija is not alone. Siobhan*, 30, has lived at England’s Lane for nine years. She was moved here when she was three months pregnant with her son, who is now eight years old.

“I was told I would only be here a couple of months,” she tells i. “I was pregnant, I was gullible, I was desperate. Now I’m depressed and miserable. I’m 30 and I’m no longer with my son’s dad because it wasn’t a good relationship. But I can’t have a partner here. I share a bedroom with my son, the kitchen is in that bedroom and guests have to leave by 11pm. I feel like I’m 14. I pay my rent, I should be able to have someone to stay over but I can’t. My life is on hold.”

I also spoke to another single mother in her forties, Imelda* a former part-time language teacher who was placed at Levine and Abbotts Hostel with her two children in late 2012. At the time, her son was nine and her daughter was one.

Seven years later, she is still there. Unlike Khadija, Imelda’s room does not have an en-suite bathroom and her family must go up a flight of stairs if they wish to use the toilet.

A home without stigma

“Being here makes me feel guilty as a parent,” she says. “I feel like I’m not providing for my children. All I want is a home where I can invite the kids’ friends over for play dates without the stigma of being looked down on for living in a hostel.”

Beyond the repercussions to family life and the health of mothers and their children, housing people in this way is costly. Derek Bernardi is a senior solicitor-advocate at the Camden Community Law Centre. He notes that Khadija’s room was £256.80 a week. Over 11 years, that’s £146.889.60. As she was working, earning £820 a month as a cleaner, she was liable to pay £388.57 a month out of her own wages, which is almost half of what she earned.

More than this, though, Bernardi is currently representing 15 clients, all of whom have children – some with disabilities – and have been placed in temporary accommodation in the borough between 2008 and 2013 for what he deems to be an “unlawful” period of time. So far, he has sent provisional letters on their behalf to the Council and would like to see a judicial review of their cases.

“All of my clients are in the same situation,” he tells i. “They have spent long periods of time in temporary accommodation with no end in sight.”

Bernardi says the case he is pursuing against the Council is simple: “[That] Camden has failed to rehouse these families within a reasonable amount of time, that they have failed to comply with their legal duties in relation to the needs of children and people with disabilities, and that their policies constitute unlawful discrimination against the homeless.”

He says Camden’s housing policies are partly to blame. “Because homeless families are restricted from getting points under almost all categories of Camden’s bidding system (for example, they are not entitled to points for overcrowding, fleeing violence, disrepair, being a care leaver etc) it would literally take them at least 20 to 40 years to build up enough points to successfully bid for a council property.”

“Our clients’ children are being born and raised in homeless hostel-type accommodation,” he adds. “They have nowhere to do their homework, or to invite their friends over, or simply to have their own private space. Unless something is done about it, then there will be no end to this disgraceful situation.”

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The bedroom pictures which show what child poverty actually looks like

England’s Lane has now been sold by Camden Council to a private developer. Residents have been told they will be moved out by 2021, but where they will be rehoused remains to be seen.

For the growing number of families living in temporary accommodation, what Imelda calls the “soul-destroying” limbo can last for years. With a diminished social housing stock, all they can do is hold on.

Camden Council told i: “In 2004 there were more than 2,000 households in temporary accommodation placed by Camden – we’ve now reduced this number to 500.

“The council’s allocation scheme was introduced in 2016 following extensive public consultation. We work hard to ensure that we are providing the best possible advice and services to people in housing need at all times.

“We do not consider it appropriate to make comments about individual cases which are still in the pre-action stage, and which may become the subject of legal proceedings.”

Councillor Meric Apak, Cabinet Member for Better Homes, said: “Our first priority always is to prevent homelessness and we have been leaders in this throughout London and beyond. We have a robust Housing Allocations policy. However, due to the extremely high demand for our limited supply of social housing we are not able to guarantee all homeless households an offer of a council home. When this is not possible, we provide suitable alternative accommodation.

“We are always available to have conversations to help families move on to longer term, settled housing from the available supply, regardless of how long they have been living in temporary accommodation.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities

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I’m studying the offside rule so I can be a lineswoman for my daughter’s football game

I thought I knew the offside rule, but I’m starting to doubt my judgement. Actually, let me correct that statement. I do know the offside rule, I’m just not confident enough to boldly bellow ‘offside’ during a match. Let alone blow a whistle. Even if it is a friendly between the local under 12 girls.

Which is why I’m questioning my decision to volunteer as an assistant referee (AR) for my daughter’s football team. The truth is I didn’t even know what an AR was. They used to be called a linesman – or lineswoman in my case. So before putting my name on the list and my neck on the line, I Googled: ‘what does a lineswoman do’. Even that task came with its own set of challenges as spellcheck repeatedly tried to change my search to ‘linesman’. At least assistant referee is gender neutral.

Sian Massey-Ellis is currently the only AR in the Premier League. She first came to fame in 2011 when she was the brunt of the outrageous comments made by Richard Keys and Andy Gray, who claimed female officials “don’t know the offside rule”. It doesn’t bode well for my recent appointment.

Lindsey Horan celebrates with United States’ forward Megan Rapinoe  after scoring a goal during the France 2019 Women’s World Cup Group F football match between USA and Thailand. (Photo credit:/AFP/Getty)

My reasons for stepping up and stepping onto the side-line are simple. I want to inspire my daughter, and I also want to disprove the myth that only dads understand the beautiful game. It’s all well and good wanting our girls to be more involved in sport and treated as equals on (and off) the pitch, but if mums are making the sandwiches, while the dads get stuck in with the action, what messages are we sending out? If they can’t see it, they can’t be it.

Following the popularity of the recent World Cup, attendance at female football matches is at an all-time high. The opening weekend of Women’s Super League saw a record number of fans watch the Chelsea vs Tottenham game – even though there were still 15,000 empty seats, and the tickets were free. At least it’s progress, but we need to maintain the momentum and excitement created by the likes of Lucy Bronze, Ellen White and Nikita Parris, who led the Lionesses to the semi-finals in the World Cup.

Getting involved at grass-roots level is one way to encourage a new generation of female footie fans. By making mums on the side-line the norm instead of the exception we can lead by our example, and show our daughters that while men continue to dominate the back pages of a newspaper, sport isn’t just for boys.

I admit that when our WhatsApp group called out for parents prepared to a referee the occasional game I didn’t respond. It didn’t really register. I have never played football, and while I like the game and have been to a few premier league matches, and watched England lose numerous World and Europeans Cups, I’m hardly a passionate supporter. Like I said, I know the offside rule, but that’s as far as it goes.

David Beckham with Brooklyn aftre the FA Carling Premiership match between Manchester United and Derby County at Old Trafford, Manchester. (Photo:Stu Forster/ALLSPORT)

Then I noticed it was only dads stepping up to volunteer. And many of them know even less about football than me. They want to get involved, they want to support their daughter, and they don’t mind learning on the job. They are also quite happy to fake it until they make it.

I don’t know if it’s arrogance, ignorance, or the fact that they literally have bigger balls than me, but why is it men fear failure less than women? According to Clare Josa, author of Ditching Imposter Syndrome, men are capable of suffering from this syndrome but they are more likely to push through it, while women give in to self-doubt. This is backed up by research from NatWest, which revealed 60 per cent of women considering starting a business, baled out due to imposter syndrome. It also found that 28 per cent of working women feel it stopped them speaking in a meeting, while 26 per cent failed to make a career change.

Refereeing at my daughter’s game isn’t just about football – it’s so much more than that. It’s about young girls seeing their mums running the line in all walks of life. It’s about learning to step outside their comfort zone, to feel the fear and do it anyway. And, in doing so, gain confidence and life skills that will set them up for life.

Which is why I find myself googling the FA rules. And coming out in a cold sweat at the prospect of making a bad call and incurring the wrath of pushy parents, shouting from the side-line.

But I’ll be the one wearing the whistle.

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With suicide rates among girls and young women at a record high, this is how experts think we need to respond

When UK suicide rates were released last year, there was a sigh of relief: perhaps the tide was turning. While the suicide rates in young people were deeply concerning, rates for men  – which had been consistently high since 1981 when the Office for National Statistics started recording – had finally dropped.

This year, however, seems to have reversed that optimism. The increase in death by suicide overall has jumped by 11.8 per cent. The latest set of statistics show suicides among men have risen by an extra 521 deaths between 2017 and 2018, with a sharp increase of 31 per cent for young men aged between 20 to 25.

But while female suicide has remained mostly at the same rate, the rate in young girls and women aged 10 to 24 has risen by 83 per cent in the last six years – a record high. Since 2012 the rate has increased from 1.8 deaths per 100,000 females (106 deaths) to 3.3 in 2018 (188 deaths).

Read more

I spent five days at a sanctuary for the suicidal, and it was life-changing

Some of the increase can be explained by coroners now using a broader standard of proof to record suicide. Previously, the higher standard of proof required to record a death as a suicide meant suicides were likely to be under-reported – a long held bugbear for mental health campaigners.

Professor Louis Appleby, professor of psychiatry at University of Manchester, leads the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England. He told i the rise in young people is cause for concern because it’s following a different pattern to other age groups.

“Suicide rates are strongly linked to deprivation,” he says, “and it’s possible that young people experience this differently. We used to think it equated with unemployment but now economic adversity is more diverse: debts, job insecurity, in-work poverty, zero hours, lack of suitable housing.”

‘“What comes across is a more intangible deprivation,” he explains. “They are the most highly educated generation we’ve seen but they struggle to find stable jobs. They live in one of the richest countries in the world but can’t afford to rent a flat’ – Professor Louis Appleby

The increase in anxiety in young people for instance, isn’t because they are less resilient or more prone to it, but because there is a different set of drivers.

“What comes across is a more intangible deprivation,” he explains. “They are the most highly educated generation we’ve seen but they struggle to find stable jobs. They live in one of the richest countries in the world but can’t afford to rent a flat. Is this a society that treats people fairly, that has something to offer, a future I want to be part of, based on the right values? If enough young people feel the answer is no, there are some who are vulnerable for other reasons who will be put at risk.”

As for girls and young women specifically, one of his studies found many of the stresses facing teenagers before they died – exam stresses, bullying, bereavement – were more common in girls.

The Mix, a multi-channel support service for young people under 25, told i girls and young women comprise of a large portion of their helpline callers. “Around a quarter of users mention depression (27.8 per cent) and or self-harm (22.9 per cent). A fifth (20.4 per cent) talk about feelings and emotions, 14.7 per cent mention anxiety and, interestingly, 11.4 per cent talk about family and 9.4 per cent talk about relationships,” a spokesperson said.

A man holds a smart phone with the icons for the social networking apps Facebook, Instagram and Twitter seen on the screen in Moscow on March 23, 2018. - A public apology by Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, on March 22, 2018 failed to quell outrage over the hijacking of personal data from millions of people, as critics demanded the social media giant go much further to protect privacy. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
“It makes people feel like everyone else has a perfect life, when in reality this is far from the truth in my opinion,” Hannah says of social media. (Photo: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)

Social media is often blamed as a catalyst for girls and young women feeling suicidal, because it supercharges feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. Hannah, 21, who has had suicidal thoughts since she was 14, believes that it’s true, saying her first experience of it was due to low self esteem and having no confidence in herself.

“It makes people feel like everyone else has a perfect life, when in reality this is far from the truth in my opinion,” she says of social media.

The Mix provides free information and support for those under 25.

Samaritans provide a 24/7 listening service for those struggling with a tough time on 116123

Shout provides a 24/7 free text service for anyone in crisis on 85258

Hannah made an attempt on her life in April, year after losing her grandmother and experiencing a depressive episode. She then made another attempt at the end of May. “I felt like it was my only option left,” she says. “Little did I know it definitely wasn’t my only option and I am lucky to be alive today to support people and give out advice myself.”

Hannah’s personal experience is that she found Samaritans very helpful, was seen very quickly by services, and never felt judged. But mental health campaigner Anneli Roberts, who runs the Pigletish blog, says she doesn’t think there are enough resources to help everyone.

“Despite reports of ‘investments’ into mental health services, the average local authority has increased its spending by just one per cent” – Natasha Devon 

“In Wales, where I live now, there are no government funded IAPT services like in England. People have to rely on the services provided by charities if they can’t afford to pay privately. When I was living in England it felt very much like a postcode lottery.”

Natasha Devon MBE, campaigner and author of A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental, agrees lack of services is a huge issue. “Despite reports of ‘investments’ into mental health services, the average local authority has increased its spending by just one per cent. Thresholds for accessing treatment are high, waiting lists are long.”

An anonymous source who works in mental health policy, told i while suicide prevention work such as NHS plans, local authority led plans, statistical monitoring and guidance are good, the larger contextual issues need to be addressed.

He says the high rates are “symptomatic of not listening to and acting on the concerns of our future generations and being prepared to say we need to really change this.”

For now, it seems to be a case of working out a strategy that is specific to the issues, concerns and challenges facing girls and young women specifically, as well as reducing the harms caused by broader social factors such as social media, bullying and harassment.

More from Poorna Bell

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State pension age changes: ‘My children sent me an Asda van filled with food – it should be me helping them’

In this series, i speaks to women who have been affected by the state pension age equalisation: The Women Who Can’t Retire. We are speaking to women in their sixties about their experiences of returning to the workforce, staying in the workforce, accessing education and facing ageism.

Jeannie Pritchard is living with various health conditions. She retired early from her work with social services after being diagnosed with lupus and she has a number of health conditions including osteoarthritis, high-blood pressure, asthma and depression. After experiencing chest pains in 2018, she was diagnosed with mild heart failure. 

Living with a series of health problems, she hoped to be able to retire at 60 with her state pension to keep her afloat. 

But the decision to equalise the state pension age for men and women means Jeannie, who is now 64, won’t receive her state pension until she is 66.

She lives in Lancashire, where she has been running a doll and teddy restoration ‘hospital’ out of a storage room she rents near her home. But Jeannie says this work is sporadic and depends on her health being good enough for her to work. 

“It wasn’t a throwaway world that we have now in the 1950s, and people used to bring their dolls to the doll hospitals to get them fixed,” she explains. “So I’ve set one up now and I just restore them. I also do ceramic restoration. But I could never be employed, because I’m too ill.”

Jeannie cannot recall receiving a letter about her state pension age rising. 

What has changed about the state pension age?

The Government’s move to equalise the state pension age to 65, in line with men, has meant women are having to wait years after they expected to retire for their state pension.

The state pension age is in the process of moving to 66 and will continue to increase over the next few decades.

Many women born in the 1950s say they were never notified about the state pension age changes, but the Government says they were “clearly communicated”. These women say state pension age changes are causing them emotional stress and financial hardship.

An increasing number of women are working into their sixties and beyond. Today there are 1.26 million women in their 60s who are working, according to the jobs and volunteering site for the over 50s Rest Lest – an increase of 50 per cent since 2009.

But some women say they cannot find a job no matter how hard they try and are having to claim benefits. Others say they have been forced into insecure or unsuitable jobs they are over qualified for. In 2018, more than 75 per cent of women in their 50s were employed but the figure for women in their 60s was under 33 per cent.

Then, in June 2018, the DWP stopped her Personal Independence Payments (PIP) following a reassessment. This reassessment came after Jeannie informed the DWP she was having her chest pains investigated and she considered her health to be deteriorating.

“I did the reassessment. This time, with all these illnesses, I got no points and they stopped everything. I had to go on Universal Credit.” 

“Every month, I have to go online and give all my accounts of what I’ve taken in and what my outgoings are. They take my private pension into consideration. Every month it comes back as zero.”

So Jeannie has been fighting three fights, she says – her health, having her PIP withdrawn and a fight for her state pension. She has recently lost her appeal against the withdrawal of her PIP. 

I’ve stayed up until midnight sometimes sewing a teddy bear up so I can have money to pay for my car or to pay for the telephone’

Jeannie Pritchard  

She has been living on her occupational pension, which is about £293 per month, and whatever she earns from her business after costs, which she says could be as low as £40 per month. Jeannie says the stress of her appeal has worsened her mental and physical health and led to a flare-up of lupus, which left her struggling to work in recent weeks.

Her children have grown up and she lives alone, which can be challenging, and she has had two falls down the stairs. The most recent was a few months ago. Lupus flare-ups can leave her with rashes, pain in her joints, her hands “red-raw” with pain, and fatigue. “With my illnesses, it’s so hard,” she explains. “Some days I can’t get out of bed. Some days I can’t think. I get foggy brain.” Jeannie says her memory has not been great, and she has to keep her various medications in seven-day pillboxes to remember to take them. 

But on good days, “I’ve still got that Liverpool fight in me.” 

Jeannie’s family didn’t have much money after her father passed away when she was 12, so she became something of an entrepreneur in Liverpool. “I begged my mum to buy me a sewing machine,” she explains. “I did all the paper rounds I could to pay her back and I made clothes to sell to my neighbours.”

She finished school at 15 and went to work in a factory. After getting married, Jeannie eventually split from her husband and worked from home while her children were small. “I learned how to do the knitting machine and I would knit things and sell them on.” She also worked as a cleaner.

“Then I decided I wanted to go to college to learn to fix things,” she says. “I enrolled on a woman’s woodworking course and I went on to do my City and Guild qualifications.” Jeannie says she later set up DIY classes and woodwork classes for women in Liverpool.

After this, Jeannie says she volunteered for Lancashire social services, fixing things broken by children. “I then got a post in Chorley working for the social services.”

As her duties increased, she began to take on medical training to care for children with complex needs and hoped to one day become a midwife. But then she was diagnosed with lupus, and her career came to an abrupt halt. “I had to retire and I couldn’t complete my training. That was 2004, and I didn’t know then that my state pension age had been moved.”

Jeannie was “devastated” at having to retire from a job she loved and became increasingly distressed by not working.

“From then I was going downhill. I was on Prozac.” Eventually, she started restoring dolls and teddies in 2008 to bring in an income.

What has the Government said about the state pension age changes?

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “The decision to equalise the State Pension age was taken over 20 years ago and clearly communicated. It’s a decision that needed to be made to ensure that the State Pension remains sustainable now and to future generations.

“Experienced workers are a huge asset to the workforce and we’ve seen a record of over 10.5 million over-50’s in work this year. Our National Careers Service and personal Work Coach support at every Jobcentre is helping people develop their career regardless of age, while we are working with employers through our Fuller Working Lives service to help them recruit, re-train and retain older workers. ”

Having to wait until 66 for her state pension is exacerbating her situation, she says. If she had her state pension, she believes she would be able to cope financially and be more independent. She is now selling her house: “If I don’t do that, I’ve got nothing until I get my state pension.”

Jeannie says friends have had to lend her money to live on and to pay her mortgage off. “How was I going to live on £293 per month when my mortgage was £415?”

I’m 64 now – I shouldn’t be doing this. I’ve served my time in this country, helping and volunteering’

“For my birthday in February, my daughter and my son sent me an Asda van filled with food. I should be looking after my children and grandchildren, but they have to look after me. I’m an independent woman and I’ve always worked, and it’s just so hard. I know there are people worse than me and it’s awful what they have done. 

“I’ve stayed up until midnight sometimes sewing a teddy bear up so I can have money to pay for my car or to pay for the telephone. I’m 64 now – I shouldn’t be doing this. I’ve served my time in this country, helping and volunteering.”

She is now writing a letter to the Prime Minister about her benefits decision and wants to help other women in her local area complain to the Government about the state pension age changes. “It’s not only me they are doing this to. It’s other people, and they could have stopped everything I’m going through with my income. I’m lucky to have a family to support me until I can pay them back, but other people will be on the streets. It’s wrong. They’ve made my health worse.”

A DWP spokesperson said: Universal Credit adjusts automatically to monthly earnings. We have confirmed that the wages used in Ms Pritchard’s claim are correct and Job Centre staff continue to support her.

“PIP is awarded following consideration of all the information received and anyone who disagrees with a benefits decision has the right to appeal at an independent tribunal.”

If you would like to share your story about working until you receive your state pension, please contact 

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Brexit has not caused a national crisis – but MPs have caused a democratic crisis

As Britain staggers back to the Brexit Rubicon for a third time (finally led by someone knows the way there), many Remainer Fundamentalists, who dominate the political Establishment, are continuing to dissemble and spout egregious disinformation and apocalyptical prophecies.

These Fundamentalists wishing to thwart the Referendum result endeavour to re-educate the poor, benighted, Leaving masses with – in the best traditions of political propaganda – a narrative of myths. So it is that we are hearing a variety of disingenuous fabrications promulgated widely in the media.

The first that I wanted to address here is that “Brexit has caused a national crisis”.

No it hasn’t. Because there has been no Brexit. Maybe there would be something akin to a crisis if Brexit actually occurred (I very much doubt it), but we are not there yet. Of course, this doesn’t stop the likes of Sky News trying to create a sense of panic by heading up every other story under the deliberately unnerving banner of ‘BREXIT CRISIS’ and ‘BREXIT COUNTDOWN’ shouting from our screens. The BBC is at it, too, with a recent Panorama special on ‘Britain’s Brexit Crisis’. It is a contrived manufacture to boost viewing figures and to create fear of Brexit.

The UK is indeed in crisis – its most serious since the Second World War – but it is a democratic one. This emergency is entirely due to over half of Parliament refusing to accept a series of democratic results and consequently going back on its promises to the British people. Remainer Fundamentalist MPs are attempting (either knowingly or inadvertently) to overthrow democracy – in plain sight and with full backing of the Establishment. It is true to say, as many (but still too few) do, that this is a parliamentary coup d’état worthy of a tin-pot dictatorship.

Like nomenklatura in an authoritarian state, Remainer Fundamentalist MPs are either rewriting recent history or, at best, indulging in convenient, selective amnesia. In 2015 Parliament passed the Referendum Bill by a majority ratio of 10:1. In 2016 the referendum result was for Leave, by 52% to 48%. In 2017, Parliament passed Article 50, initiating the formal process for leaving the European Union by 29th March 2019, by a majority ratio of 4.5:1. In the General Election of 2017, over 80% of votes went to parties explicitly and unequivocally promising to honour the Referendum result and to leave the European Union.

So whether through the mechanism of direct democracy or representative democracy, there has been a clear expression of the electorate’s wishes. But Parliament continues to throw up obstacles to block the democratic process in the hope that time will erode or even supplant the position of Brexiteers (and, chillingly, kill off the oldest of them). The logic of such a spoiling approach is one that can allow Parliament to permanently circumvent the democratic process.

In true Orwellian Newspeak style, the Remainer Fundamentalists in the Commons are brazenly saying that they are actually acting in the name of democracy and parliamentary sovereignty. All animals are equal but some (themselves and the Establishment) are more equal than others (voters).

In the UK’s current confusion, where even our leading politicians and legal experts cannot agree on what is legal and what is constitutional (there has been considerable pushing of the boundaries), the figure of A.V. Dicey is much overlooked. Dicey (1835-1922), a jurist and constitutional theorist, has much to say here. It is a common mistake made even by many commentators to believe that the UK does not have a written constitution. It does – it is just not codified in one stand-alone document.

One of its written sources is Dicey’s Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution from 1885. Dicey directly, and presciently, addressed the clash we are witnessing today between Parliament and the people. He asked how does one reconcile the legal sovereignty of Parliament with the fundamental democratic principle of a sovereign people? He was troubled that the sovereign people might be made submissive to a sovereign Parliament enforcing arbitrary powers. This is exactly what is happening today.

Dicey’s later solution to this was the constitutional device of the referendum: “a democratic check on democratic evils”. Our majority pro-Remain legislature (Parliament) has shrugged the 2016 Referendum off with contemptuous arrogance. The result is the appalling situation in the UK today, whereby the political sovereignty of the electorate is being usurped.

It is laughable how these Remainer MPs like to portray themselves as modern and forward-thinking, yet the likes of the Speaker of the Commons, Remainer-in-Chief John Bercow, resorts to parliamentary procedure from 1604 in their attempts to cripple Brexit. Many of them try and sound clever and convincing by regurgitating Burkean Bristolian bumpf. They consider this to be their divine inspiration to justify MPs morphing from representatives of democracy into 650 mini-dictators. Edmund Burke MP famously addressed his Bristol constituents in these terms:

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”.

It is remarkable how this has taken on the status of some divine parliamentary law. His opinion tends to support epistocracy – in effect, the rule of our politically enlightened betters over the ignorant hoi-polloi – and not democracy. Oh, and Burke said that in 1774. That’s two-and-half centuries ago. Back then less than 3% of the population of England and Wales had the vote (and less again in Scotland). And Remainers say Brexiteers are stuck in the past!

But, when you think about it, this perfectly encapsulates the Remainer Establishment’s views on democracy as something to be kept out of the hands of the rabble. Their rallying cry should be ‘Onwards to the 18th century!’. In fact, these days MPs are unlikely to be either delegates or representatives of the people; even staid textbooks on politics identify them first and foremost as representatives of their party rather than either delegates or representatives of their constituents. (There are many honourable exceptions, of course.)

So our crisis is a democratic one. Remainer Fundamentalist MPs are disgracefully trying to obfuscate issues of sovereignty and authority, and to confuse voters by a cynical recourse to arcane parliamentary procedures, as if the true essence of democracy rests here and not with the demos, the people itself.

There are four further myths I shall address in my next piece for BrexitCentral, to be published in due course.

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Global appetite for ready-to-use explosives and weapons remains undimmed at biggest arms fair

Need a state-of-the-art mobile Howitzer capable of vaporising a pinpoint target 45 miles away? Or perhaps it is time to stock up on ready-to-use explosives for breaching armoured doors? Oh, and before you leave, have a look at these second-hand British military helicopters available at a competitive price?

Britain opened its doors to some 35,000 delegates – many of them bedecked in the braid of global military top brass – attending the world’s biggest arms fair – Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI).

Spread throughout the cavernous halls of the ExCeL exhibition centre in London’s Docklands, 1,700 manufacturers will spend three days peddling a bewildering array of wares from frigates to fighter jets and mortar shells to special forces gas masks.

It is not an event that is welcomed by all. Protesters have spent much of the past fortnight seeking to disrupt deliveries of the lethal hardware to be put on display, prompting the arrest of more than 100 demonstrators.

Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Leaders’ Summit (Photo: Getty Images)

Campaigners have condemned the fact that the Government has seen fit to invite arms-buying delegations from eight countries which it officially considers to be in breach of human rights.

One of those countries, Saudi Arabia, is Britain’s largest single weaponry customer; although the desert kingdom’s delegation had to keep their cheque books closed for further UK purchases after ministers were found to be in breach of their own arms export rules.

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Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson accused of ‘central role’ in arming Saudi Arabia as UK’s relationship with Riyadh reaches crossroads

The Government, which formally supports DSEI, insists that Britain’s defence exports are stringently controlled and point out that sales last year reached £14bn – a source of revenue and employment that UK Plc can ill afford to lose.

If the numbers milling around the glittering corporate stands of the likes of BAE Systems, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman were anything to go by the global appetite for the shiny tools of war remains undimmed.

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How to eat healthy food on a budget – because eating a healthy diet doesn’t have to cost more

The idea that healthy food costs more than junk food is something I hear a lot. Students tell me they’d like to eat better but can’t afford to. There is a strong belief that cooking from scratch costs a fortune, and with takeaway meals priced as low as £1, they have little incentive to change their behaviour.

The past decade has seen increased media attention on healthy diets, and stories about the cost of healthy eating are also on the rise, all of which influence public perception. Some studies comparing the price per calorie of foods suggest less healthy foods are often cheaper, but they don’t tell the whole story. The metrics used to measure cost are important.

Consider the example of two pots of chocolate dessert, one regular and one with less fat. Using the price-per-calorie measure, the lower-fat dessert appears more expensive than the regular pot, because it contains fewer calories. But studies comparing the price per unit weight of food from the same food group suggest healthy options are often cheaper – for example, 200g of chickpeas versus 200g of bacon. The latter is a more meaningful measure because most people buying food think about the quantity they are buying rather than how many calories they are getting for their money.

Changing habits early

Expanding waistlines is a growing public health concern. Globally, the rate of obesity has tripled since 1975. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 1.9 billion adults are overweight, of which 650m are obese.

The younger generation is especially affected by high-calorie, low-nutrition foods. High levels of sugar, fat and salt put children at increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, not to mention tooth extraction. Perhaps more worryingly, habits formed in childhood seem to stick for life. This is a tragedy because these problems are avoidable. It is possible to eat healthily for less – much less – than the price of a cheeseburger. The crux of the issue is not cost, but knowledge, skills and time.

We are increasingly conditioned to think of healthy food as expensive, because of the price of meat, fish and dairy, the rise of “superfoods” and the higher cost of organic produce. Yet nutritious food needn’t cost the Earth. Chia-seed smoothies are an expensive luxury; basic nourishment – carrots, lentils, potatoes – is cheap as chips.

It is possible to cook a filling, healthy meal in very little time

Jack Monroe (Getty)

Poverty is exhausting and this in part drives food choices. Often the last thing people want to do at the end of a long day is cook, so cheap takeaway meals are appealing.

People on low incomes are more likely to buy calorie-dense foods instead of fruit or vegetables because they are more filling. But while a cheeseburger might fill you up for longer than an apple, junk food is bad for our health.

It is possible to cook a filling, healthy meal in very little time, as the British food writer, Jack Monroe, has shown repeatedly. For example, her recipe for a courgette, tomato and cheese gratin costs 33p and takes eight minutes to cook. It’s healthier and cheaper than a takeaway.

‘Pulses (beans, peas and lentils) are nutritious, very cheap and work well in place of meat’

But promoting healthy eating in a cash and time-poor society is difficult and teaching cooking skills alone won’t do it. Jamie Oliver’s campaign to teach cooking skills to people on low incomes, while well-intentioned, alienated much of his intended audience by demonising the turkey twizzler and further stigmatising families living at the sharp end of austerity in Britain. What we eat is central to our identities, and strategies to address diet need to recognise this if they are to work.

Don’t be fooled by expensive ‘superfoods’

(JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
(JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

So how can you eat better on a budget? Meat and fish are among the most expensive items on a shopping list while plant protein often costs less. Pulses (beans, peas and lentils) are nutritious, very cheap and work well in place of meat.

‘Frozen, tinned and dried fruits and vegetables are often cheaper than fresh but keep their nutrients’

Don’t be fooled by expensive “superfoods”; there is no agreed definition for this term and many so-called superfood health claims remain unproven. Simply increasing the volume and variety of fruit and vegetables in your diet is shown to reduce the risk of ill health and needn’t be costly.

Frozen, tinned and dried fruits and vegetables are often cheaper than fresh but keep their nutrients. They also keep for longer, meaning less food waste.

Avoid buying processed foods; often you can make similar dishes quickly and easily for much less. This recipe for pasta sauce costs 50p for four portions, while a jar of pasta sauce costs over four times this price, and, as a bonus, you’ll know exactly what’s in it.

Diet is fundamental for health and well-being, and the cost of food alone should not stop people from eating well. Junk food may be cheap and tasty, but the idea that healthy food is expensive is just fiction.

is Lecturer in Nursing, University of Dundee. This piece originally appeared in The Conversation 

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Downton Abbey is cornier than the fields of Iowa – but it’s the escapism we need from political uncertainty

”Is it common to feel excited?” Lord Grantham asks, in a vaguely rhetorical manner, in advance of the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Downton Abbey. The year is 1927, in the wake of the General Strike, and what concerns the denizens of Downton is not whether the world is changing forever as a result of an historic display of workers’ solidarity, but if the silver will be polished in time for the Royal visit. And whether it’s all right, as Lord G intimated, to feel a little giddy about taking tea with His and Her Maj. At a time of political chaos and social upheaval – now, rather than then, by the way – the big screen version of Downton Abbey, which opens in cinemas this Friday, could not have come at a more timely moment.

Jim Carter stars as Carson in the Downton Abbey movie. Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/ Focus Features
Jim Carter stars as Carson in the Downton Abbey movie. Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/ Focus Features

“It’s like climbing into a warm bath,” said Jim Carter (who plays the butler Carson) when interviewed on the red carpet at Monday’s premiere, and for two hours of sumptuous cinematography and insouciantly mannered dialogue, the audience is indeed left to bathe in the certainties, the permanence and the order of a bygone age. The contrast with the tumult and insecurity of public life today will not be lost on anyone.

It was telling that, at the premiere, the biggest ovation was not for the first appearance on screen of Lord G (Hugh Bonneville) or his mother (the peerless Maggie Smith), but for Downton Abbey itself (Highclere Castle in Berkshire, in real life). When the camera sweeps up the drive to reveal this castellated Jacobean treasure sitting amid the oaks and the lawns of a trademark Capability Brown garden, the audience burst into a round of applause. It was a spontaneous expression of affection towards a stately home that represented timelessness and endurance. How comforting, we felt.

An edifice for the ages. Something on which we can depend. This is made explicit in the denouement of the film, when Maggie Smith delivers an encomium on the steadfast nature of Downton, which will outlive the predilections and peccadilloes of any time to come.

Highclere Castle is the primary filming location for Downton Abbey. pictured in Highclere, southern England, on May 12, 2016. Highclere Castle, made famous as the set of the hit television series Downton Abbey. (NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)
Highclere Castle is the primary filming location for Downton Abbey. pictured in Highclere, southern England, on May 12, 2016.
Highclere Castle, made famous as the set of the hit television series Downton Abbey. (NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP/Getty Images)

At a moment in our lives when an even more iconic and symbolic building – the Palace of Westminster – is in danger of losing its sense of itself, its fabric perhaps fatally damaged by the catastrophic goings on over the past weeks and month, this is a welcome sentiment. When you can’t rely any longer on the mother of all parliaments, where do you look for solace, for reassurance that the essential mechanics of our way of life are being looked after?

Go and see the movie of Downton Abbey is my advice. Lose yourself in a world where our elected representatives didn’t shout and scream at each other. When the instruments of state were respected. And when a patriarchal society brought structure and order. Antediluvian though its attitudes might have been, I found myself wondering whether society is any less iniquitous today than it was then.

Yes, the film has more corn than the plains of Iowa, and its plot lines do not bear too much examination (more time is expended on the boiler breaking down than on an assassination attempt on the King of England) but it’s an opportune work of escapism for these febrile times in which to take a long, hot soak. And, in case you’re worried, it’s not common in the slightest to enjoy it.

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Britain is being too naive about the far-right threat- these people aren’t just ‘idiots’, they pose a serious danger

Do you know who David Parnham is? He is a white supremacist who sent fake anthrax to the Queen, two Bishops, Theresa May when she was PM and to the Home Office. He proudly describes himself as a ‘Muslim Slayer’ and wants a ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ and to exterminate religious and racial minorities. He posted hundreds of threatening letters to parliamentarians and others between 2016 and 2018.

In a letter to Dylann Roof, the American who murdered nine black people in South Carolina in 2016, Parnham confessed: ‘ The idea of killing turns me on’. He has just been jailed for 12 years. If this man had a Muslim name, say, his mug would be splashed on the front pages and TV news and be recognised forever.  But white, British terrorists are rarely thought to be that much of a threat, that big a deal. 

Nadine Collier (L) walks out of the Centralized Bond Hearing Court Preliminary Hearing Court after attending the bond hearing for Dylann Roof who is accused of killing her mother, Ethel Lance, and eight others during a shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 19, 2015. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

According to a BBC report, members of Combat 18 (C18), a neo-Nazi organisation have been suspected in numerous deaths of immigrants, non-whites and other C18 members; In 2015, Mushin Ahmed, 81, was slain by two British racists as he walked slowly to mosque in Rotherham. The Labour MP Jo Cox was killed in June 2016 by an unrepentant far right killer. 

In June 2017, Darren Osborne drove a van into a crowd leaving a mosque in Finsbury Park, north London, killing one and injuring nine others. He had been motivated by far-right material from Tommy Robinson‘s English Defence League (EDL) Britain First Party (BF).

In that same year, Jack Renshaw, member of the neo-Fascist, National Action, plotted to kill the Labour MP Rosie Cooper with a machete. Robbie Mullin, a whistleblower exposed him and now lives in mortal fear because these people have vowed to kill him.

 A new group calling itself Generation Identity is drawing a large number of recruits, among them two Royal Navy operators. They hate Muslims and Jews and want to ethnically cleanse Europe. 

A march organised by far-right groups English Defence League and Britain First, which also sees a counter-protest held by group ‘Unite Against Fascism’. (Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

 If shown photos most Britons would not recognise these terrorists or organised ideologues. Whiteness, apparently, lessens the risk they pose to society. The two killers of Lee Rigby, in contrast, are constantly ( and rightly) recalled and reviled, as is the Manchester bomber and the Islamicists who carried out heinous crimes against citizens in London. Take off the blinkers. Come out of the vapours of obliviousness.  

In the UK the denial is stronger than elsewhere because the country was never occupied by Nazis and because ‘we won the war’. These historical verities have led to a mindset of grievous complacency. It can never happen in this country, our compatriots think, while it is happening under their noses. 

Black and Asian Britons see and deeply fear the Neo-Nazis who are now confident enough to be seen and heard in public spaces. By cleverly hijacking the Brexit cause, they portray themselves as the new patriots. (Honourable Brexiters should really distance themselves from these sinister populists). A contact at the Met Police told me: ‘ We don’t want to be accused of being pro-Remain. And so there is some holding back at a time when right wing people- including children- referred to counter-extremism programmes has risen by over 30%’ 

Tommy Robinson with Katy Hopkins as he arrives for his sentencing at the Old Bailey in London. (Photo: Henry Vaughan/PA Wire)

The government must become more attentive and active. We need the media too to investigate the funding of these movements and the burgeoning memberships. 

Last week, a lorry driver, saw me and shouted: ‘We’re coming for you. This is a white man’s land’. When I told a mate, an Englishwoman, she tried to reassure me by saying:  ‘He was just an idiot. Don’t let it get to you. This isn’t Germany’. Upset by this insouciance, I tearfully described some of what I go through- stuff I never discuss in public. None of this diminished her irritating optimism. Friends like these and other good people unwittingly are enabling extreme bigotry.

Then there the enemies within. Grooming gangs of Asian men – most British Pakistanis- can’t  see that they have become recruiting agents for the hard right. Far right supporters constantly emote about how these ‘Muslims are raping our girls’. The impact is immediate and irradicable. These wretched abusers in grooming gangs are also turning previously tolerant white Britons into ethnic nationalists. 

Mr Justice Jay, told the Neo-Nazis who plotted to kill  Rosie Cooper, that their aspirations to purge this country of its ethnic minorities and its Jews, was ‘truly insidious and evil’. We now have homegrown Hitler’s ‘armies’. This peril is real, present and growing. And yes, remember Germany. This is how it all started there. 

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It’s time to abolish the House of Lords – it’s undemocratic and nobody understands it

Nobody pays proper attention to the House of Lords. Even journalists paid to keep half an eye reveal their ignorance when they marvel at the procedural weirdness when it pushes into the news once a year. Did you know that if the Lords hadn’t adjourned their overnight debate last week, it would have stayed a Wednesday there indefinitely?

It’s cute – the Lord Speaker sits on something called a “woolsack” – but it’s also worrying. The United Kingdom has a whole legislature stuffed with lords and ladies, and almost nobody understands what it’s for.

‘The Lords’ role in the constitution is to do oversight of the constitution, but they do it without oversight themselves’

Britons seem especially willing to trust that age-old institutions have a useful purpose that they just can’t fully articulate – see the extended Royal Family – but this isn’t good. The Lords’ role in the constitution is to do oversight of the constitution, but they do it without oversight themselves.

The only time anyone notices what they’re doing is when they consider blocking a contentious Government proposal, but – as members sometimes point out themselves –  it’s not really their role to say no to the elected representatives of the people.

The Lords pass the Benn bill on Friday after Government-supporting peers dropped their filibuster (Photo: AFP/Getty)

Could we reform it? Maybe. Theresa May’s resignation honours brought a few interesting additions, such as Ruth Hunt, the 39-year-old chief executive of Stonewall. She’s not an 80-year-old man, which is promising in itself, and it’s not a bad thing to try to make the Lords more reflective of society as a whole while it’s here. It’s significant, too, that a lifelong LGBTQ+ rights campaigner, who has been vocal on issues such as trans rights which still face opposition in broader civil society, should be adopted by the establishment in such a way.

But it would take another 90+ Stonewall chief executives to balance out the voices of literal hereditary peers alone. As much as the latter probably have vital contributions to debates on grouse hunting and inheritance tax, they’re never really going to reach Gogglebox levels of national representation, are they?

The House of Lords is not apolitical – it has more than 500 members of political parties and now, after Mrs May’s additions, a half-dozen more Tory advisers, fundraisers and functionaries than it had before.

It’s not real democracy

But neither is it political in a way a modern democrat would understand as legitimate. In 2011, members of the House of Lords themselves had to warn David Cameron that he was at risk of knocking the house’s reputation after he set about appointing well over a hundred peers in a year. Why did he do it? Because Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had been in power for over a decade, and had filled up the benches with their own sort.

That’s not really democracy. And the actual functioning of the House is not drastically better. During the Benn bill debate, Lords brought duvets and toothbrushes to prepare for several days’ debate – because the Lord Speaker has no right to stop people tabling infinite amendments.

A lord or lady who wants to speak gets to speak. If their peers want them to shut up – and a majority of lords were against the filibuster effort – then they have to vote on it.

Why? Because it’s tradition. And because they’re better than the Commons – they’re better than us.

Delegates sing the national anthem during the closing session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People (Photo: Getty)

Here’s a fact: the House of Lords is the second biggest legislative chamber in the world after the Chinese National People’s Congress, which represents a country of 1.4 billion people. One is overwhelmingly dominated by the Communist Party of China, but the other is full of bishops, judges, actual landowning lords and assorted wealthy people who are near impossible to remove, so it’s actually not an easy decision on which is more democratic.

Reform will only get you so far. Blair tried it in 1999 and only got as far as where we are now.

Shut the doors

It’s time to shut the doors, just as the Commons quaintly shut the doors on Black Rod during the State Opening of Parliament. Get rid of almost all the current lords and ladies and let those who think they’re worth the role stand for election.

Give us 200 senators and give them a rulebook that makes sense, with a dress code that never involves fur. Let former Downing Street advisers find real jobs. Abolish the House of Lords.

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It’s not only up to shoppers to buy less fast fashion- retailers need to stop selling us so much rubbish

How’s #SecondHandSeptember going for you? That’s Oxfam’s campaign – supported by the model Stella Tennant and stylist Bay Garnett – to stop people buying new clothes for the whole of this month in favour of ones that come pre-loved.
Great idea, of course, but if you’re anything like me you’ll have popped a couple of last minute school shirts in your online basket the night before term started before remembering you were supposed to have been rifling the charity shop rails instead. Oops. Anyway, I tried #AlreadyOwnedAugust (see what I did?), traipsing the seaside streets of Deal in search of anything in the Kent town’s charity shops that might be useful come term-time and had to retreat empty-handed.
Ashley Graham, Pretty Little Thing co-founder Umar Kamani and Khloe Kardashian attend a party for the fast fashion brand in LA (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty)
Ashley Graham, Pretty Little Thing co-founder Umar Kamani and Khloe Kardashian attend a party for the fast fashion brand in LA (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty)
Have you tried looking for decent kids’ stuff in your local charity shop recently? I bet Stella Tennant hasn’t – or if she has found anything with life still left in it that’s only because she probably lives somewhere where people are rich enough to cast out actual labels rather than washed out t-shirts from George at Asda or Sainsbury’s Tu. Tennant even admitted that in their house second hand counts as something her 14-year-old daughter Iris has raided from her own wardrobe, that is to say, the wardrobe of a supermodel.
Of course we need to stop buying new clothes – we bought more than 50 million single-use items of clothing THIS SUMMER ALONE – but it is going to take more than one well-meaning model to get us to ditch our passion for fast fashion.
A sale rail is like crack for most shoppers, especially if you’re feeling a bit down or in need of a pick-me-up – and by “most shoppers” I mean me. A sparkly silver cape I, ahem, stumbled upon in Zara, now hanging reproachfully in my wardrobe, is testament to my own weak-will although, in my defence, I do try to buy more from charity shops.
Again the trouble is it’s often hard to find anything worth the bother because the quality is often so lousy in the first place. Here, towns like Deal with elderly populations can come up trumps because clothes being ditched by an older generation tend to have been better made in the first place. I’m especially fond of a 1980s Jaeger skirt, or this year’s favourite, one by Coats Viyella that washes like a dream.
It’s all very well putting the onus on shoppers but the quality issue is one for retailers. They’re the ones cutting costs and selling stuff that barely has one life let alone two. No wonder 300,000 tonnes of clothes end up in UK landfills every year; they’re unwearable.
LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 21: (L-R) Rachel Bilson, Kate Bosworth, Douglas Booth, Stella Tennant and Mario Testino attend the Burberry Prorsum Show at London Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2011 at Kensington Gardens on February 21, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Burberry)
Why aren’t we seeing more action from British retailers along the lines of Zara’s Spanish owner Inditex and Sweden’s H&M, which also owns the Cos, & Other Stories, Monki and Weekday brands? Inditex recently announced that all of its collections would be made from 100% sustainable fabrics before 2025, the first international high street store to make such a commitment, while H&M is aiming to have 100% recycled or sustainable sourced materials by 2030, up from 57% now.
Granted, Marks & Spencer encourages customers to “schwop” – to donate an item of old clothing when they buy a new one – but it needs to speed up how quickly it is switching to sustainable sources for its raw materials. Right now, 47% of its cotton is from sustainable sources.
That said, what does “sustainable” really mean in this context? Even Mary Portas, self-styled Queen of Shops, admitted she didn’t know when I chatted to her recently ahead of her new BBC Radio 4 show about fashion and design although she promised to find out. The model-turned-campaigner Charli Howard intends to shine further light on similar issues in a new BBC podcast, Fashion Fix.
The bottom line is very few of us actually *need* any new clothes. What we need is for retailers to stop selling us so much rubbish in the first place.

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