You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Rishi Sunak has got a slick Instagram game, his signed Tweets are infamous and he’s started In Conversation videos with people like Gordon Ramsay. Heck, he even has an email newsletter like all the best people (though nowhere near as good as mine, obvs).The chancellor is certainly not publicity-shy, nor lacking in ego, as the nearly six-minute long clip he put out yesterday made painfully plain. That promo was in many ways a kind of political humblebrag, his modest “gosh..me?” when told he was being catapulted to the top job at the Treasury contrasting with the fact that he was telling the world just how modest he was.Yet despite the Twitterati ridicule he endures (and seems to actively invite), Sunak knows that as long as he comes across as reasonable, fluent and genuinely compassionate to the more typical general public, he can help neutralise years of “nasty party”/“same old Tories” narratives. Even the authentic geekiness (Star Wars, Coca-Cola obsession) may be seen as oddly endearing.As ever, the risk with all this self-promotion (as opposed to policy promotion) is of appearing politically tone deaf. When you’re a millionaire former financier married to the heiress of a billionaire, talk of “we” and “us” coping with the downturn in the pandemic can certainly jar. That clip of him holding his budget box up, twirling round for the camera indoors, sent a message he was just loving his dream job. Meanwhile, millions fear that they’ll have no job at all later this year, once that extended furlough is removed.Of course, criticising a politician for being ambitious is as ludicrous as criticising the British summer for being wet. There’s also a difference between being ambitious and being a careerist who simply wants to climb the greasy pole for its own sake. And that charge is hard to level against Sunak for one good reason: Brexit.It should not be forgotten that back in February 2016, the shiny young new MP took the bold decision to back Vote Leave. Then chancellor George Osborne is understood to have hinted to him that if he came on board for Remain, he’d get a government job, but Sunak put Brexit first.Now, it could be argued that Sunak waited for a certain big beast to jump first (Boris Johnson tore up his pro-Remain column for the Telegraph and backed Leave just five days before Sunak “came out” as a Brexiteer to his local paper). You could even argue that his hand was forced by wanting to keep his local Tory association sweet. Yet he nevertheless took quite a risk.But it’s worth looking at exactly what Sunak said back in 2016 to the Yorkshire Post. He put control of immigration high on his list (even though it’s not entirely clear his rural constituency had any experience of migration problems). He also said his experience as a global businessman convinced him the UK had to tap into growing markets rather than rely on the EU.Most relevant of all given his current job, some economists would have their heads in their hands on reading Sunak’s claims. To give one example: “Since we joined the Common Market, Europe’s share of the word economy has halved and is still falling.” The US’s global share has fallen by half too since 1960 but isn’t that the very nature of a more globalised economy?Sunak also suggested a Canada-style trade deal would happen because somehow the EU needed UK trade more than vice versa. (“Six million jobs in the EU are linked to UK trade and we buy £60 billion more from Europe than Europe buys from us.”) That proved politically and not just economically naive. He added that while only “five per cent of businesses export to the EU, yet all businesses are stifled by excessive EU red tape”. The shellfish industry may politely disagree.Now, there are and were electorally powerful reasons why the British public backed Brexit, not least the argument that national sovereignty mattered more than everything, including economics. Some Brexiteers are even candid enough to say there will be medium term damage to trade but in the long run it will be worth it.Yet Sunak, one of whose watchwords in the budget is meant to be “honesty”, has been signally silent on the merits of Brexit of late. In fact, the chancellor was all but mute on the topic in his spending review last November. The elephant in the room was gagged and bound and forgotten about.It took the Office for Budget Responsibility (the clue is in the name) to point out the same day that while a no-deal exit would mean a 2% hit to GDP, even a Brexit deal would not avoid a 4% hit to UK output over the medium term. To put that in context, even if there is a sharp recovery this year, Brexit will take more out of our economy than the whole of the pandemic.Of course, Keir Starmer is unlikely to be the one to raise this on Wednesday. Yet if he really was honest, Sunak would have to explain just why the Brexit he supported had left the UK facing such a big hit to its economy. He should also be honest about the hit caused by the likely loss of financial services income even if he gets a memorandum of understanding with the EU.Sunak loves using the political equivalent of that Wickes slogan “it’s got our name on it”. But on Brexit downsides, as on corporation tax rises and spikes in unemployment after September, I suspect he won’t be adding his signature to everything that flows from his budget.Related...Furlough Scheme Extended Until September, Chancellor Rishi Sunak To ConfirmWhy Rishi Sunak May Struggle To Stay Popular As Covid Collides With The EconomyRishi Sunak Says It's 'Odd' To Blame Eat Out To Help Out For Covid Surge
It was supposed to be one of the big symbolic wins of Boris Johnson’s clean break, hard Brexit strategy.But just two months after the end of the transition period, the UK fishing industry is up in arms about the trade deal the prime minister struck with the EU.Things are so bad that Martyn Youell, senior fisheries and quota manager at fishing company Waterdance, concluded that Johnson’s trade and cooperation agreement with the EU has “under-delivered greatly”.And he described as a “particularly poor choice of words” Johnson’s dismissal of various industries’ difficulties in getting to grips with new red tape outside the EU single market as “teething problems”.Youell said the UK fishing industry was dealing with “systemic issues” after the introduction of new checks and paperwork, which in January inspired seafood hauliers to protest against the trade deal by stacking lorries in central London.He told the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee that 80% of the difficulties that were first encountered are still in place and the UK is “miles behind” other nations’ terms of trade with the EU in fish.Even the PM’s promise to “take back control” of its fishing waters has not yet delivered many gains, after he agreed a five-and-a-half year adjustment period where 25% of EU boats’ rights will be transferred over to the UK ahead of more negotiations on quotas.
The major part of the agreement feels like it has under-delivered greatly for the UK fishing sector
Youell said: “We’ve made some gains in terms of amounts of quota and in terms of the ability to regulate the UK’s waters more autonomously.“But those I’m afraid are a very minor part of the agreement.“The major part of the agreement feels like it has under-delivered greatly for the UK fishing sector.”Seafood Scotland chief executive Donna Fordyce said Brexit has left fish exporters having to deal with “too many systems” for its normally swift supply chain to work properly.The process whereby fish could be caught and turned into products sold on the EU market within two days, “day one for day two products”, now “can’t be guaranteed”, she said.Sarah Horsfall, co-chief executive of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, said her sector was experiencing particular difficulties as it exports live products like crabs and lobsters.The four hour delays that are hitting the fishing industry have “very considerable impacts” on these products, she said.When they arrive to market, “more product is dead, and more product is in less good condition”, Horsfall added.She also described the paperwork required as “excessive” and part of a system that is “unwieldy and very difficult”, with exporters facing costs of between £400 to £600 for each consignment sent to the EU.Moreover, there is now a complete ban on the export of bivalve molluscs like oysters to the EU.Last month, the government set up a taskforce to resolve “export issues” facing seafood exporters.The government has also launched a £23m compensation scheme for the fishing industry.The UK-wide seafood disruption support scheme will help businesses which suffered a loss due to export problems in January, providing up to £100,000 per firm.Related...Michael Ellis Made Attorney General While Suella Braverman Is On Maternity LeaveNigel Farage Gets Fact-Checked By The Home Office Over 'Incorrect' Migrant Covid ClaimsWhy Rishi Sunak May Struggle To Stay Popular As Covid Collides With The Economy
Michael Ellis has been named attorney general while Suella Braverman is on maternity leave, Downing Street has confirmed. Braverman is the first minister to use the Maternity Act 2021, which allows her to take paid leave while she has a baby. Northampton North MP Ellis, who moves up from the position of solicitor general, has previously served as transport minister, arts minister and deputy leader of the Commons. Lucy Frazer, who was prisons minister, will take up the role of solicitor general and be appointed to the privy council, the government also said. A statement from No.10 said: “The prime minister gives the attorney general his very best wishes for her maternity leave and looks forward to welcoming her back in the autumn.” Boris Johnson has faced criticism for the decision, however, which sees another man appointed to his top team. Braverman’s departure means that of the 26 senior figures attending cabinet, just six are women. It follows the promotion of Johnson's Brexit negotiator Lord Frost last week, also, to a Cabinet Office post. Equalities committee chair Caroline Nokes is among the MPs who have called for the PM to appoint more women to his top team. The former Tory minister told HuffPost UK: "Yet again we see the proportion of women around the cabinet table go down, that’s twice in just over a week with the appointment of Lord Frost to Cabinet and now Michael Ellis to attorney general."It is disappointing but not surprising." She told The Sun earlier that the Covid pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women and the PM should welcome more female cabinet members.“When the PM was in hospital, the ‘quad’ [Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock, who between them took most of the major decisions at the time] was all men,” said Nokes.“There are real challenges around females not being heard in the decision making process.“I don’t think they’re being listened to at all – it’s only about men.“I still don’t get a sense of a real determination to make sure that female voices are not just not just heard, but are understood.“That’s the real evidence of the government just having dropped the ball on this.”Related...Law Officer Quits Over Johnson Plan To Break International Law
A laser focus on maintaining unity has been the essence of the SNP’s success as an election-winning force over the last decade. But as its two most high-profile figures, former first minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon, engage in open warfare, is this the beginning of the end for the SNP’s dominance of Scottish politics? Bitter division between the two over the Scottish government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints threatens to pull apart the SNP just weeks ahead of the Holyrood elections in May. Ahead of Nicola Sturgeon giving evidence at an inquiry on Wednesday, here is everything you need to know about the political crisis north of the border. The facts Salmond served as first minister of Scotland from 2007 to 2014, when he resigned after voters backed No in the independence referendum and Sturgeon succeeded him. The current saga started in 2018 when the Scottish government launched an investigation into two allegations of sexual harassment made by two civil servants against former Salmond. The allegations dated back to when Salmond was first minister and the government probe was allowed under rules established in the wake of the Me Too movement, which meant older complaints could be investigated.Salmond denied wrongdoing and brought legal action against the government saying the investigation was “unjust”.He won the judicial review in 2019, with Edinburgh’s court of session concluding the government had acted unlawfully during the process and ordering that it cover Salmond’s £500,000 legal fees. The decision came after the government accepted that the investigating officer had previously had contact with the complainers.Top civil servant Leslie Evans admitted the process had been “tainted by apparent bias”.At a subsequent criminal trial in 2020, Salmond faced charges of 14 sexual offence charges and was acquitted.He has alleged Sturgeon misled parliament over what she knew, and when, about the allegations, and therefore breached the ministerial code.What happened after Salmond’s criminal trial? Two inquiries were established to examine Sturgeon and the Scottish government’s handling of the investigation. The first minister referred herself for investigation under the ministerial code. James Hamilton QC is looking at whether she breached rules which govern the behaviour of ministers. There is a question mark over when she learned of the allegations and whether she misled parliament and interfered in the investigation, all of which are questions Hamilton’s inquiry must answer. Sturgeon initially told MSPs she first became aware of the allegations during a meeting with Salmond in her home on April 2, 2018.She later admitted she had had a meeting with Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, on March 29, however, when details emerged in a Sky News report. She later told MSPs she had “forgotten” this information. It is said Aberdein and Sturgeon discussed government rather than party business at her home also, which may be a further breach of the code. Sturgeon has said she should face “full scrutiny”, but has said: “I do not consider that I misled parliament – but that is of course for others to judge.”This probe carries the most risk for Sturgeon’s leadership. It is ongoing and may not report for some time. What is happening now? The second inquiry investigating the Scottish government’s handling of the complaints is led by a Holyrood committee.A number of senior figures have appeared before MSPs in recent days, including – following a long legal wrangle over whether his written evidence would be published – Salmond himself and Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, chief executive of the SNP.During his evidence, Salmond hit out at several Scottish government figures he alleged conspired against him during the investigation. Among others, he called for Evans, the government’s permanent secretary, Peter Murrell, SNP chief executive and husband of the first minister, and Sturgeon’s chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, to resign. He claimed there was a “deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort” by these individuals to “damage my reputation, even to the extent of having me imprisoned”. Murrell has faced accusations from opposition MSPs of misleading the inquiry about his knowledge of meetings between Salmond and Sturgeon. It is also claimed he applied pressure for Salmond to face a criminal investigation. The ex-SNP leader alleged Sturgeon had breached the ministerial code but stopped short of calling for her resignation, saying it was not for him to decide. Sturgeon is due to give evidence on Wednesday. Those around the first minister report she is feeling “bullish” and will strongly contest the claims made against her and her inner circle. What next? The personal enmity between Sturgeon and Salmond – who together formed arguably the most successful political partnership Scottish politics has ever seen – is visceral. Before the inquiry, Sturgeon used a first minister’s questions session to accuse Salmond of a “scorched earth” attack on the country’s political institutions, while accusing her critics of sacrificing their principles on the “altar of the ego of one man”. Asked during his committee evidence if he had forgiven Sturgeon, Salmond replied “no”. His claim that Scotland’s governance is not fit for independence – “Scotland hasn’t failed, its leadership has failed” – also threatens to damage Sturgeon’s support with the independence movement. If the Hamilton Inquiry concludes that Sturgeon has broken the ministerial code, she will face pressure from within her party and opponents to stand down.Separately, if Hamilton and the committee find senior figures in the government or SNP to be at fault, others may also face pressure to resign. Will Sturgeon have to resign? Support for Scottish independence has hit record highs (58%) in recent months, with many praising the FM’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. The Holyrood elections are due to take place in May and Sturgeon has published an 11-point roadmap to securing a second independence referendum. There are three possible outcomes to the current crisis for Sturgeon in the months ahead. Firstly, if the Hamilton Inquiry concludes that she broke ministerial code, she will come under intense pressure to resign. It is not yet known if she would resist. If she goes, a successor will have to be found and the Scottish Tories have already begun moves to oust deputy first minister John Swinney, who is separately under attack over what legal advice was withheld from the committee. Secondly, if Hamilton finds no evidence of a rule breach, the Holyrood committee may still criticise senior figures in the government and SNP. In this scenario, allies of Sturgeon, such as Murrell, Lloyd or Evans may be forced to leave their posts. The first minister’s authority would suffer a serious blow as a result. Finally, both Hamilton and the committee could back the Scottish government and FM. In this situation Sturgeon would likely stay in post for the May elections, which, despite the deep divisions, the SNP remain on course to win handsomely. Sturgeon’s internal critics want the party to ramp up demands for a second referendum and dislike her step-by-step approach. They fear this outcome allows the FM, who has sought to make the case for independence alongside other policy issues, to say the public supports her leadership. Whatever happens, it seems unlikely that Sturgeon and her inner circle will survive the crisis completely unscathed, especially as the judicial review, which saw Salmond awarded some £512,000 in costs, has already found the government to be at fault. What does it mean for the SNP and independence? It remains to be seen whether the inquiries will get cut-through with voters but this internecine war will undoubtedly change the SNP. The party’s factionalism has been kept in one tent for the past decade.But those wars look set to burst into the open, for example those between the “gradualists”, who favour more devolution and a slow path to independence, and the “fundamentalists”, who say the SNP must always defend and support its central policy for it to be seen as credible. Factionalism has torn apart Labour and the Conservative Party in recent years. Salmond could return to politics as part of a rival pro-independence party. What his next move will be is not clear. Sturgeon has already moved against his allies in the SNP, however, with a shake-up of the Westminster team, which saw Joanna Cherry, Kenny MacAskill and Angus MacNeil removed from Ian Blackford’s frontbench.While other policy issues, such as how the SNP should advocate for trans rights, were said to be behind the decision, all three had defended Salmond. Despite huge support in the polls, frustration with Sturgeon’s approach is also building as the party’s grassroots think Boris Johnson will always say no to requests for a second referendum. One party source told HuffPost UK: “Nicola is a very orthodox politician who is never going to take a risk. “The people who do the groundwork delivering the leaflets are getting very impatient and they are asking: ‘If not now, when’.” Activists believe “we should be using this election in May to basically secure a mandate to enter into independence negotiations”, they added, saying the 11-point plan was “about smoke and mirrors”. “The raison d’etre of the SNP is to achieve independence. If we can’t deliver that then naturally people will be looking to see who can,” they said. But allies of Sturgeon say the Scottish government must be trusted to deliver, and point to her stewardship of the country during the pandemic. They also underline the polls. The latest, by Ipsos Mori, predicts that the SNP will win 72 of the 129 seats in Holyrood, nine more than they have now. It would give the party an outright majority of 15.The poll also said the Tories are expected to fall to 26 seats, while Scottish Labour dropped to 17. The Lib Dems and pro-independence Greens were also forecast to make gains. Though other parties are struggling to make gains, independence advocates fear low turnout amid the division can be used to reject calls for a new vote. All of which means that how Sturgeon handles the next few months will be critical for politics north of the border. Related...Local Elections To Go Ahead In May But Voters Must Bring Their Own PenNicola Sturgeon Backs 'Managed Quarantine' For All Arrivals To ScotlandYoung Scottish Indy Backers Have Only Known Tory 'Brexit Chaos', Says Anas Sarwar
Keir Starmer speaking during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons." src="https://img.huffingtonpost.com/asset/603d60fa2700000e0457e482.jpg?ops=scalefit_630_noupscale" />You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.The first day of spring often prompts thoughts of a fresh start, of a page being turned, of slow progress suddenly getting noticed. And after a few weeks of discontent about his leadership, Keir Starmer may have hoped that March 1 would mark a change for the better.Well, today showed life is never that simple or straightforward when you’re in Opposition, particularly a Labour Opposition. While Starmer wanted to focus on the government’s own weaknesses, not least the holes and delays in the hotel quarantine scheme amid the detection of a new Brazil variant of the Covid virus, for his party there were plenty of other distractions.The day started with what looked on the face of it like a legal victory. In the High Court, the wonderfully named Mrs Justice Tipples rejected an application by former official Emilie Oldknow to force the party to identify those it believed had leaked the explosive anti-Semitism report last year.Oldknow was ordered to pay the party’s court costs, as well as those incurred by lawyers for Unite the union in its written submissions on the case. And in fact the big winners today were the five unnamed individuals represented by Unite, which had claimed the party had tried to “wash its hands” of them by failing to actively contest the disclosure order.The detail of the case is all HERE, but the upshot is that what looked like a tactical victory for Labour could end up causing it yet more pain in the courts and in costs. People like Oldknow who believe they were defamed by the leak may now sue the party itself, rather than the five individuals. Don’t forget Labour has already spent a fortune on payouts to former staffers in the wake of the Corbyn-led party’s response to the Panorama documentary.The mood in Labour HQ may not have been lightened either by a new Deltapoll showing that Boris Johnson’s personal ratings had overtaken Starmer’s for the first time since last May. The Labour leader’s ratings (which have outperformed those of his party) are at their lowest level since he took over the job.The “vaccine bounce” for Johnson has been seen in other polls too. Although Labour ought to win hundreds of council seats this May in local elections, and retain its big city mayoralties easily, the theme of Pyrrhic victories could continue if the party continues to trail in the national polls.The Budget this week will be the main event on Wednesday, but you can bet that beforehand Johnson will have tried to rough up Starmer with yet more “flip flop” and “Captain Hindsight” jibes. To add to the pressure, he’s facing his own debut on a major fiscal event at the despatch box (because parliamentary convention means that it’s the leader of the Opposition who replies to a Budget, not the shadow chancellor).Yet the flip-flopping-wibbly-wobbler charges being levelled at Starmer by the PM will surely be emboldened by Labour’s stance of opposing all and any tax rises “right now”. As I wrote last week, Labour has always kept open the option of supporting corporation tax hikes later in the cycle, but you can bet Rishi Sunak will try to claim Starmer just changes with the wind. The Budget will certainly be a tempting glimpse of future Sunak-Starmer face-offs in the post-Johnson era.If the Guardian is right and Labour is now preparing to back the government over any freezing of personal allowances, that doesn’t quite sound like “no tax rises right now”. A huge caveat here of course is that Oppositions never usually vote for a government Budget, and lots of the measures may not be “right now” but kick in next year or the year after. Yet that won’t stop the Tories saying that, as on Covid, Starmer has criticised tax rises then later supports the idea. Call it a variation on the theme of saying he is supportive at first, then gripes later. I’m amazed the Conservatives haven’t yet tried mocked up posters of ‘Starmer Chameleon’, though maybe they can’t get the music rights from Culture Club (I know Labour once tried ’Cameron Chameleon’ but it obviously doesn’t scan as well).There was one other hint of fresh trouble down the line, this time on Europe. In a Q&A after a speech at Bloomberg, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds was making sound points about the need for the overdue memorandum of understanding between the UK and EU on financial services. She then uttered these words: “Would we be seeking to immediately renegotiate this deal? No, we’ve got to make the current deal work.”That adverb “immediately” raised eyebrows within and without the Labour party. Was the implicit signal that Labour in power would renegotiate the Brexit deal at a later stage, even if not straight away after it got into office? Would renegotiation mean a new customs union Starmer has long supported (good for trade but sure to be seen as letting Brussels set the rules)? I’m told the party would not be seeking to renegotiate and would try and make the current deal work, but you can bet Tory campaigns HQ has filed that one away for Blue Wall seats.There is some hope for Starmer that actually his “don’t mention the war” approach to Brexit may pay off. New research (highlighted by Sunder Katwala) shows that Leave and Remain identities are slowly waning among voters, though a quarter of people still use the labels as their primary political label).Yet both Sunak and Johnson will argue that Starmer can run but he can’t hide from the Brexit issue. And even if that’s another thing Labour won’t talk about “right now”, it will be forced to in 2024.Related...How Did The Brazilian Variant Slip Through The Gaps?Can Keir Starmer Persuade The Public There’s A ‘Right Time’ To Increase Taxes?Ex-Labour Chair Says Starmer's Plan To Oppose Corporation Tax Rise Is ‘Grotesque’
David Cameron has admitted the government failed to properly prepare for Covid-19 and should have learned from the Sars outbreak. The former prime minister, who was in power from 2010 to 2016, said that ministers focused too heavily on a possible influenza pandemic. Instead, they should have broadened preparations to include all respiratory illnesses, saying “more should have been learned” from Sars in 2002. Like Covid, Sars was a new contagious coronavirus. Influenza is also a contagious respiratory illness, but of a different family of virus. The government has repeatedly been criticised for not preparing the UK for a new and unknown disease. Speaking to the national security strategy committee, Cameron said: “I think the mistake that was made was that in thinking about future pandemics, the focus was very much on influenza rather than on respiratory diseases and I think that is where, and I am sure there will be a big inquiry into what we learn and all the rest, but I think there was a pretty good flu pandemic plan but it was a flu plan rather than a respiratory illnesses plan.” Cameron said his government had “set up a unit in the Cabinet Office to do sort of global virus surveillance” but he was “not quite sure what happened to that”. He added: “But [...] more should have been learned from the experience with Sars and the respiratory diseases in terms of our own preparedness. But I wouldn’t blame the national security architecture for that. The architecture was there.” A 2016 drill, called Operation Cygnus, was aimed at testing UK resilience. It exposed how hospitals and care homes faced being overwhelmed should a new virus hit the UK.It was criticised for failing to check up on supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), capacity for testing and the number of ventilators. MPs also uncovered last year that that it failed to make any recommendations to Treasury or business officials. Amid rumours that former US president Donald Trump was considering a return to politics, Cameron was also asked if he would consider a comeback. Former prime minister David Cameron tells a committee of MPs that the Brexit referendum “was properly thought through” and not an “afterthought”.Get the latest news and headlines here: https://t.co/TVxfGKeZcapic.twitter.com/hCrnOPXKO7— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 1, 2021“No,” he said. “Thinking about Donald Trump making a comeback is enough to keep us all spinning over.”Cameron also defended holding the 2016 Brexit referendum, which ended his premiership, saying it was “properly thought through” before the 2015 general election. The ex-PM also used his appearance to criticise decisions taken on security and aid by his successors.He said Theresa May made a “very bad mistake” allowing the role of cabinet secretary and national security adviser to be merged, with Mark Sedwill holding both roles during her tenure in Downing Street.“I think it was for instance a very bad mistake combining cabinet secretary and national security adviser – they are two jobs,” he told the committee.“For one person, even if you were a cross of Einstein, Wittgenstein and Mother Teresa, you couldn’t possibly do both jobs and I think that temporarily weakened the National Security Council.”On Boris Johnson’s decision to scrap the Department for International Development (DfID), Cameron said: “I think abolishing DfID is a mistake too for all sorts of reasons but one of which is actually having the Foreign Office voice around the (National Security Council) table and the DfID voice around the table I think is important – they are not necessarily the same thing.“Can you really expect the foreign secretary to do all of the diplomatic stuff and be able to speak to the development brief as well? That’s quite a task, so I think it is good to have both.”Related...Rishi Sunak ‘Risks Sparking ERG-Style Tory Rebellion’ If He Delays Tax HikesRevealed: Tory-Linked Private Firm Awarded Government Hotel Quarantine ContractRevealed: The MPs Who Refused To Back Boris Johnson's Brexit Trade Deal
Nigel Farage has been called out by the Home Office over a tweet in which he claimed 12 migrants arriving in Dover on Saturday had tested positive for coronavirus.The Reform UK leader detailed what he described as a “Covid crisis” and called on home secretary Priti Patel to “get a grip”.Covid crisis in Dover this morning. One migrant boat with 12 on board and they all tested positive for the virus. Get a grip @pritipatel.— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) February 27, 2021But hours later the Home Office refuted the claim, saying none of the people referred to by Farage had tested positive.“This is incorrect,” it said in a tweet. “None of these 12 people tested positive for Covid-19. All adults who arrived today have been tested for Covid-19.”@nigel_farage This is incorrect. None of these 12 people tested positive for Covid-19. All adults who arrived today have been tested for Covid-19— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) February 27, 2021Four small boats in total carrying 87 people including children made the dangerous Channel crossing into the UK on Saturday.The Home Office has said all adults who arrived in Dover were tested for Covid-19, and only one person tested positive.It is not known how Farage obtained the false information and his tweet is yet to be deleted.HuffPost UK has contacted Reform UK for comment.Elsewhere, a new study last week found those who support Reform UK are the least likely to take up the offer of a coronavirus jab.Only 53.7% of those planning to vote for Reform UK favour taking the vaccine, a two-wave study by Oxford University found.This contrasts dramatically to over 90% for supporters of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, at 94.8%, 91.4% and 92.1% respectively, and 100% for those who intend to vote for the SNP.People who did not know who they would vote for were less likely to take the vaccine at 82.6%, as were supporters of the Green Party at 77.4%.The study found strong relationships between political attitudes and intention to accept the jab, with whether you voted for Brexit also appearing related to vaccine acceptance, according to Oxford researchers.Related...Rishi Sunak Says It's 'Odd' To Blame Eat Out To Help Out For Covid SurgeRishi Sunak Says 'More' Financial Support To Come In Budget
Anas Sarwar has won the race to be Scottish Labour’s next leader. The Glasgow MSP beat health spokesperson Monica Lennon, with 57.6% of the vote to 42.4%, the party announced on Saturday. Sarwar strongly opposed Scottish independence during the contest and has taken the helm ahead of Holyrood elections on May 6 crucial for the party. He said: “I want to say directly to the people of Scotland, I know Labour has a lot of work to do to win back your trust. “Because if we’re brutally honest, you haven’t had the Scottish Labour Party you deserve. “With rising injustice, inequality and division, I’m sorry we haven’t been good enough. “And I will work day and night to change that, so we can build the country we all need.” Sarwar is also the first minority ethnic leader of a major political party in the UK.He said: “That doesn’t say something about me. That says something great about Scotland and its people. “But the fight for equality is far from over. “And I’ll work with all our diverse communities in Scotland to rebuild the country we love.” While Scottish Labour trail in the polls, will be hopeful of clawing back support amid the explosive row between SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond. The former first minister said on Friday, in his evidence to the Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of sex harassment complaints against him, that Sturgeon’s leadership had “failed” and the government was not fit to take the country to independence. Despite the high-profile row, the SNP are still predicted to make gains at the next election and will put a second referendum at the heart of their pitch to voters. Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “Huge congratulations to Anas on his election as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party. I look forward to working with him to secure our economy, protect our NHS and rebuild our country.”“We will fight the Scottish Parliamentary elections by making the case for a socially just Scotland in a modern United Kingdom. Under his leadership, Scottish Labour will focus on what unites us - not what divides us.“I know Anas will do the hard work that is necessary to win back the trust of the Scottish people and build for the future as we emerge from this pandemic.“The latest poll, by Ipsos Mori, predicts that the SNP will win 72 of the 129 seats in Holyrood, nine more than now and giving the party a majority of 15.The poll also said the Tories are expected to fall to 26 seats, while Scottish Labour dropped to 17. The Greens and Lib Dems were also forecast to make gains. Related...The Candidates Set Out Scottish Labour's FutureYoung Scottish Indy Backers Have Only Known Tory 'Brexit Chaos', Says Anas SarwarCould There Be Another Scottish Independence Referendum? Here's The Latest
Amid COVID-19 and Brexit, the company's cloud division faces a fresh set of unique challenges.
Any discussion on vaccination seems guaranteed to polarise public opinion. The most recent iteration of debate concerns the ethics, value and practicalities of rumoured so-called ‘vaccine passports’, issued by the government, which would allow those who have been vaccinated to follow less stringent lockdown rules and have greater freedom of movement.Boris Johnson’s announcement of England’s ‘roadmap’ has the nation fixated on regaining their civil liberties after almost a year of restrictions – and, at face value, vaccine passports sound like a plausible path towards enabling this vision. But they are littered with scientific and ethical dilemmas.First, the science. The rationale for verifying vaccination is twofold: to protect the individual from society, and ensure they themselves are of low risk to the rest of society too. For this to work, vaccines must demonstrate their ability to provide twofold security – fortunately, clinical trials across all coronavirus vaccines suggest substantial protection against severe disease progression and death. Preliminary data from Israel also suggests that symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission can be significantly thwarted. Still, several known unknowns remain; in particular, the resilience of vaccine protection to current (and inevitable future) Covid variants, and the duration of immunity. Second, there are the ethics. Vaccine passports risk dividing society. In the UK, where older groups have been prioritised, we could see the country split into an older, vaccinated group and a younger group stuck inside awaiting their jabs. Can we say vaccine passports would really give us freedom if the population is effectively segregated? History accounts for many more failures in this approach than successes.Throughout the pandemic, pervasive inequalities have been exposed and exploited by the virus. The proposition of vaccine passports will only exacerbate these inequalities further.
Pervasive inequalities have been exposed and exploited by the virus. The proposition of vaccine passports will only exacerbate these inequalities further.
For example, children are not currently included in the national immunisation programme, making the already existing complexities of intergenerational interaction even less feasible for even more of the population. And vaccine passports could also exclude the small minority medically unable to receive a jab.If the past year has distilled just one learning point, let it be that our societies are rendered frail when we attempt to co-exist with inequality. Surely the pandemic has illustrated both the need and the urgency to build back better. The opportunity to rebuild a ‘new normal’ is ripe, instruments as blunt as vaccine passports could set us back. The debate around vaccine passports also reinforces the familiar false dichotomy between public health and economic growth. The raison d’être of passports would be stimulating economy recovery by coaxing out those who are now low-risk. Proponents of the scheme would argue that it is insufficient to merely identify the social risks, and instead the extent of risk should be advised to inform policy. Though, the same can be argued about the extent to which rolling out passports would actually generate economic benefits. Another to add to the list of known unknowns.
Vaccine passports would not be the route to liberty but the route to segregated liberty.
As the government is reportedly considering making the passports digital, careful attention is required around the challenges of privacy. These mirror the concerns expressed previously over stringent contact tracing systems in Asia.The list of challenges goes on. Could people resort to acquiring fraudulent passports? What are the implications for job security? If 130 countries have not received a single dose, how many years will it take to ensure equal access to opportunities globally? A stronger case for passports may be presented in due course, if and when clarity over scientific, ethical and practical aspects emerge. But right now, there is little evidence, and too many challenges, to support their use. Vaccine passports would not be the route to liberty but the route to segregated liberty. At least if they were digital, we wouldn’t have to argue about their colour.Jay Patel is a Researcher at the Global Health Governance Programme, Usher Institute, University of EdinburghRelated...Why Lockdown Is Lasting So Long Even With Effective VaccinesImmunity Passports Are Back On The Agenda, But Can Boris Johnson Persuade His MPs?NHS App Could Become 'Health Passport' To Prove Covid-Free Status
Well, Brexit meant Brexit One of the consequences of Brexit came back to bite a Seagate customer in the UK who was forced to pay import VAT and brokerage fees on a replacement drive still under warranty that was this month shipped from the Netherlands.…
Labour leader Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds during a visit to the Portsmouth Gin Distillery in Southsea, Portsmouth." src="https://img.huffingtonpost.com/asset/603830763f0000ea03a3f089.jpg?ops=scalefit_630_noupscale" />You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.It’s February 2021 and Jeremy Corbyn is prime minister, leading the UK’s fight against the Covid pandemic. John McDonnell is chancellor, sitting in his Treasury office and putting the final touches to his spring Budget, aka The People’s Budget.That budget has at its centrepiece the second of the socialist Labour government’s rises in corporation tax, taking it from the 19% inherited from the Tories (the fourth lowest among the world’s richest nations) to 24%. Another hike is planned for next year, part of a policy to raise a huge £23.7bn from companies.Treasury officials, who under Philip Hammond had secretly looked at raising corporation tax as a “low hanging fruit” to get the public finances back in order, are relaxed about McDonnell’s latest move. The chancellor even has on his desk a copy of the Little Red Book he once flung at George Osborne, the man whose deep cuts to the tax had given Labour an easy way to raise cash.Yes, it’s a parallel universe that requires some suspension of disbelief. But many Tory backbenchers can now be forgiven for rubbing their eyes, blinking and seeing the prospect of Rishi Sunak doing exactly what McDonnell planned. Leaks, so far strangely not denied, suggest Sunak will next week set out a “pathway” towards jacking up corporation tax over the next few years.To make matters even more surreal, if any such increase were included in the coming Budget, it looks like Labour would whip its MPs to vote against it. So we would be likely to see a Tory rebellion against the tax rise, and could see a Labour rebellion in favour of the tax rise. And both sets of rebels would say they were being true to their party’s manifesto promises in 2019. Welcome to pandemic politics.As it happened, Hammond popped up on the BBC to warn Boris Johnson that he must risk popularity and tell some “difficult home truths” about how he would balance the books. The problem with that is the public don’t really seem to be listening. I’m told that Tory party HQ has been taken aback by focus groups that show the voters really don’t care yet about repayment of loans by business let alone the state reducing borrowing.While Hammond jibed that “as a populist government, giving money away is always easier than collecting it in”, it seems the punters really do believe in the Magic Money Tree that Theresa May once used to patronise a nurse in the 2017 election (before losing her majority). Boris Johnson himself often appears to splash the cash, and not a Commons statement goes by without him smiling kindly on pleas from Red Wall Tories for a new school, hospital wing, railway station or bypass in their constituency. But plenty of other Tory MPs certainly are worried about borrowing and debt and think that cutting spending not whacking up taxes is ultimately the only way to do it. As former Treasury aide Sonia Khan predicts on our podcast, it may not be long before there’s a fiscal equivalent of the ERG (the FRG?). And its first cause celebre would be a corporation tax hike. Which brings us back to Labour and Keir Starmer. There is a growing unease among Labour MPs, not all of them Corbyn supporters, at the idea that the party would vote against a rise in taxes it had in its last manifesto. But it’s the Left that is certainly most public, with former chair Ian Lavery telling HuffPost UK today it would be “grotesque” to whip its MPs against the rise.In yet another twist to this story, Starmer’s position is backed up by David Cameron, who told CNN that “piling taxes” onto a fragile economy “wouldn’t make any sense at all”. Indeed this is the orthodoxy among think tanks like the IFS and others. A senior Labour source tells me: “Right now is not the time for tax rises, which would choke off the recovery before it has even started. That is the consensus of all major economists.”That phrase “right now” is of course the crux of the matter. Many in Labour suspect Sunak is merely testing the water with those Budget leaks and don’t expect an actual corporation tax rise before the autumn if at all. The party won’t even say it would agree to tax rises once the economy has recovered from the pandemic, because judging exactly when that point is reached is very difficult indeed.Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds however made clear in a Q&A today that Labour was certainly not ruling out corporation tax hikes in future years. “If we’re talking about a longer term trajectory, let’s have that discussion, let’s make sure that we do have that more effective tax system,” she said. A new poll tonight found that voters in every demographic group support a corporation tax rise. Across all voters, 67% support a rise and 10% oppose it.So why is Starmer so insistent on his ‘no tax rises now’ policy? Well, first he and Dodds have spent months trying to get across this message on council taxes and other hikes. Second, this is all about saying Labour has changed. At his 2019 manifesto launch, Corbyn relished the opprobrium, saying. “I accept the opposition of the billionaires...I accept the hostility of the bad bosses”. In his recent speech, Starmer said business should not be “tolerated or taxed” but should be a partner of government.And unlike the Biden administration, which is in power and can enact a huge spending stimulus matched by corporation tax hikes, Labour strategists think the very fact they are in Opposition restricts their room for maneouvre, especially off the back of that disastrous 2019 election result when few promises are believed any more.Starmer has quietly led a 21st century equivalent of the “prawn cocktail offensive” that Gordon Brown used to get business and the City on board with New Labour in the 1990s. Finance firms and others have been impressed with him, and all the links he built up as shadow Brexit secretary with the CBI, Federation of Small Business and lots of sectoral players have built his reputation. Even this week, shadow City minister Pat McFadden went down very well indeed at the ABI’s annual conference. Ultimately, Starmer’s bet is that the voters will see his party no longer looks trigger-happy about tax rises and would only enact them where absolutely necessary. Similarly, he wants to reassure them that their own taxes will be spent well and not wasted. But above all, he wants to embellish his reputation for credibility and competence.Note too that this talk of partnership with business is not a ruse. It’s a break not just with Corbynism but Milibandism and its pantomime “predators and producers” rhetoric. I’m told that the Labour leader is heavily influenced by the factory his father worked in, which was a small firm at the heart of a community. Its demise is seen as yet another example of governments failing to work with business.Starmer sounds serious about his business partnership. When the UK furlough plan was drafted, one option considered by the Tories was a Germany-style short-working to keep people in post rather than fire them. It foundered because the UK simply lacks the close trade union-state-business relationship found in Germany, where short working kept many in work during the financial crisis. Some Starmer supporters think a Labour government could reshape our economy by being more German (on skills, manufacturing too).One senior party source tells me: “The approach being advocated by Ian Lavery and Richard Burgon is an unintended argument for austerity because it suggests you can fiddle with taxes and spending to pay off debt accumulated in an economic downturn. It’s the mirror of the argument George Osborne made a decade ago.” “Labour must be far more ambitious – we should be the party focused on working with business to grow the economy and tackle the long-term weaknesses of our unequal and insecure economy, which is the way Britain will balance the books,” they add. Ironically this idea of “the proceeds of growth” being the answer to the tax/spend problem is exactly what Cameron and Osborne espoused in Opposition before the financial crash.Back in 2006, the modernising Tories were terrified of being seen as “pro cuts” (hard to believe now, I know). Starmer, who wants to shrug off the image of being “pro taxes”, is opting for his own proceeds of growth policy too. The danger is that just as the Conservatives proved they were “the same old Tories” on austerity, Labour would risk being seen as reverting to type with any major tax hikes at the next election.And that’s the real challenge for Starmer: being consistent. Just as the Tories veered between “Demon Eyes” (too dangerous) and “Bambi” (too soft) attacks on Tony Blair, the party still hasn’t quite found a way to damage Starmer in the eyes of the voters. Johnson again this week tried to paint his opponent as a “vacillator” who changes his mind (having tried and failed to make stick the line he’s a jobbing lawyer who easily changes briefs). If Starmer can persuade the public there’s a right and a wrong time to hike taxes, he could avoid the charge of inconsistency. It won’t be easy, with attacks from left and right. But he clearly thinks it’s a prize worth winning.Related...Ex-Labour Chair Says Starmer's Plan To Oppose Corporation Tax Rise Is ‘Grotesque’Rishi Sunak ‘Risks Sparking ERG-Style Tory Rebellion’ If He Delays Tax HikesOpinion: Starmer Must Dive Headlong Into Britain’s Challenges, Not Simply Dip A Toe
Delaying tax rises to the autumn risks giving Tory rebels time to “get some wind behind them” and build an ERG-style low tax movement, a former Treasury special adviser has warned.Sonia Khan told HuffPost UK that Rishi Sunak has a “real challenge” ahead of next week’s Budget amid reports that he may look to hike taxes to fill the huge black hole the coronavirus pandemic has blown in the public finances.Tory MPs are believed to be considering rebelling against plans reportedly under consideration by the chancellor to hike corporation tax from 19% to 24%, with borrowing forecast to hit £394bn in March.But MPs have been warned by Downing Street that they could be sacked from the party if they vote against the Budget, because it would be seen as a confidence issue by the government.Khan said Sunak may choose to delay tax rises to his autumn statement because HM Revenue and Customs would not be able to implement any announced next week in time for the new financial year from April 1 anyway.But this could create problems for Sunak as it would allow low-tax campaigns to “get some wind behind them” and potentially build a backbench faction in the mould of the insurgent hard Brexit ERG (European Research Group), she warned.Khan, who was an adviser to chancellors Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid, told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast: “One of his big challenges is, I think firstly, you’re not going to get any new taxes between now and April because the turnaround time is just too short and HMRC will never be able to implement them. “So maybe we’re sort of looking at the autumn Budget as the tax Budget.“But that gap means you are leaving space where the people in your party who feel like they are not represented, they are sort of these fiscal conservatives who believe in low tax, free market and whatever else, to sort of galvanise a bit of a campaign and get some wind behind them.” She went on: “You can see the development of another ERG, but an economic research group, (with) partnerships with the think-tanks, making the case for the competitive economy.“So he’s going to have a real challenge when he starts to come to make some of those harder decisions if he does defer them to November, possibly.” Tory grandees on Thursday clashed over what approach Sunak should take.Lord Hammond urged Boris Johnson to risk unpopularity by telling the public “some difficult home truths” about the damage the coronavirus pandemic has caused to the economy.But former prime minister David Cameron warned that tax rises “wouldn’t make any sense at all” as the nation opens back up from lockdown.Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also said “now is not the time” for tax increases, raising the prospect of low-tax Tories and the opposition joining forces to vote against Wednesday’s Budget.Cameron, who is no longer a Conservative MP, warned against tax rises as he defended his own austerity policies, telling US broadcaster CNN: “Today we do face very different circumstances.“So piling, say, tax increases on top of that before you’ve even opened up the economy wouldn’t make any sense at all.“I think it’s been right for the government here in the UK and governments around the world to recognise this is more like a sort of wartime situation.”Hammond urged the prime minister to level with the public amid rising unemployment and the economy being hit by the biggest annual decline on record.He told the BBC: “My fear is that, as a populist government, giving money away is always easier than collecting it in.”The Conservative life peer, who resigned as chancellor when Johnson became prime minister, urged ministers to focus on growth and to ditch “very extravagant” promises from the manifesto.“Not all of those commitments can now sensibly be delivered on and that’s going to be a big challenge for a government that regards its short-term popularity as very, very important,” he said.But Hammond added he was “not sure” the “top leadership” has the “appetite for being unpopular, in order to do the right thing”.The prime minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton responded: “I don’t recognise the picture the former chancellor makes.”She cited “difficult” policy decisions made by Johnson, including to cut foreign aid, and to order people to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.“This is a prime minister who is prepared to take difficult decisions and is weighing up very hard choices at the moment,” Stratton added.She insisted “we are committed to the manifesto” but declined to comment on specifics until the Budget.Related...Ex-Labour Chair Says Starmer's Plan To Oppose Corporation Tax Rise Is ‘Grotesque’Opinion: Labour Voting Against A Tax Rise For Big Business Would Be GrotesqueUK’s Covid Alert Level Should Be Lowered, Say Chief Medical OfficersTory Leavers Call For Key Brexit Deal To Be Scrapped – Despite Voting For It
Hardline Tory Brexiteers have called for a key part of Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement to be scrapped, despite voting for it last year.The European Research Group (ERG) said the Northern Ireland protocol, an attempt to solve the vexed issue of the Irish border and Brexit, “has to go” as unionist politicians claim it has driven a wedge between the region and the rest of the UK.Responding, Labour said: “The ERG – and this cannot be stressed enough – voted for this.”The protocol, designed by the EU and UK to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, has long proved one of the most troubled parts of Brexit negotiations.The original version proposed by Theresa May would have seen similar rules applying to the whole UK, but would have restricted the government’s ability to sign free trade deals around the world.When Johnson took over as prime minister, he ripped up May’s commitment for the whole UK to be treated the same, instead agreeing to move regulatory and customs checks to the Irish Sea, with goods imported into Northern Ireland from Great Britain subject to a range of new processes.This has caused some disruption to trade since it came into effect on December 31, which could intensify significantly on April 1 when a grace period currently limiting the bureaucracy applied to imported supermarket goods ends.In a report, the ERG said the EU’s “bungled” and short-lived attempt to suspend the protocol to block vaccines leaving the bloc for the UK via Ireland has created a “political opportunity” for the government to seek to renegotiate this part of Johnson’s deal.The groups said that although it voted for the protocol as part of Johnson’s withdrawal agreement, “it was not necessarily intended to be permanent” because it can be replaced by a vote in the Northern Ireland assembly.The group also pointed towards backbench Tory attempts during negotiations to replace the protocol with so-called “alternative arrangements”, which did not make it into the exit deal after being dismissed by the EU.The UK should now seek to renegotiate the deal and replace it with these alternative arrangements, based on technological solutions, or suspend the protocol and replace it with domestic laws, it said.ERG chair Mark Francois said: “We will no doubt be told that the EU will never renegotiate the protocol – just as we were repeatedly assured they would never re-open the withdrawal agreement, or indeed abandon the dreaded ‘backstop’, which the protocol eventually replaced when they subsequently did both. “Our report explains, in detail, why we believe that the protocol now has to go, or to paraphrase William Hague, why ‘we will not let matters rest there’.”The Democratic Unionist Party has already demanded the scrapping of the protocol.Following a meeting of the UK/EU joint committee overseeing the mechanism on Wednesday, Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster said the protocol had “completely ruptured the flow of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland”.She called for the UK to take unilateral action, saying Johnson’s should “step up and protect the United Kingdom internal market”.In a joint statement after the virtual joint committee meeting on Wednesday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said both sides committed to the “proper implementation” of the protocol.Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said the ERG had voted for Johnson’s Brexit deal, including the Northern Ireland protocol, but now wants to create further instability.“The ERG – and this cannot be stressed enough – voted for this,” she said.“This was the deal they demanded, for the Brexit they chose.“Now they would rather tear things down, and provoke further instability, than show even a hint of responsibility.”Related...Nigel Farage Supporters 'Least Likely To Take Up Covid Vaccine' Among Voters'Red Wall' Voters Strongly Back Green Policies, Study FindsWhy Teachers Won’t Get Fast-Tracked In Boris Johnson’s Covid Vaccine Rollout
Poet Paul Muldoon has revealed how Sir Paul McCartney managed to fool him with a prank phone call impersonating then-US president Donald Trump.The Irish writer has collaborated with the Beatles star on his forthcoming book The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present, interviewing the music legend multiple times over the past few years.During an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Muldoon recalled: “Shortly after I met [Paul McCartney], I had a phone call from – of all people – Donald Trump, asking me to come down to Washington to act as his poetry zsar for the next four years.“This would have been in 2016. And, of course, I was rather taken aback.”Muldoon continued: “And it turned out, needless to say, that this was Paul McCartney doing an extremely good impression.”He added: “Paul McCartney is a very serious person but he’s very far from being a solemn person. He’s a great believer in fun.“This is absolutely clear from his catalogue, if we may describe it as such. He’s more inclined to see the upside of things and to be joyous, rather than anything else.”During Trump’s four-year presidency, Paul McCartney was among the then-US leader’s many famous critics, most notably because of his attitude towards climate change.He previously told the Evening Standard: “Normally I go along taking notice of politics but not really feeling I have to get involved.“But when Trump said climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, I just thought: ‘Woah, wait a minute. That’s a leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world… That just sounds like a mad man. Just like mad talk.’”Sir Paul’s 2018 album Egypt Station features a song taking aim at Trump, on which he’s heard singing: “Despite repeated warnings of dangers up ahead, the captain won’t be listening to what’s been said.”He also sings: “Those who shout the loudest, may not always be the smartest.”READ MORE:Paul McCartney Reveals The Label He 'Hated' From His Beatles DaysJames Corden Roasts Trump With Musical Coronavirus Parody, Maybe I'm ImmuneDave Grohl Says Taylor Swift Saved Him At Paul McCartney's Party
Political affiliation can be an indicator of vaccine hesitancy, a new study has found, with those who support Nigel Farage’s new party the least likely to take up the offer of a jab.Only 53.7% of those planning to vote for Reform UK favour taking the vaccine, a two-wave study by Oxford University found.This contrasts dramatically to over 90% for supporters of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, at 94.8%, 91.4% and 92.1% respectively, and 100% for those who intend to vote for the SNP.People who did not know who they would vote for were less likely to take the vaccine at 82.6%, as were supporters of the Green Party at 77.4%.The study found strong relationships between political attitudes and intention to accept the jab, with whether you voted for Brexit also appearing related to vaccine acceptance, according to Oxford researchers.The study found that those who backed Remain were around 7% more willing to take the vaccine than those who backed Leave, or those who did not vote in the 2016 EU referendum.The study was conducted on a representative sample of over 1,600 adults in the UK, excluding Northern Ireland, with over 1,200 respondents in both the October and February surveys.Overall, it found that three quarters of those surveyed now say they are “very likely” to have the vaccine up from 50% among the same group five months ago.Ben Ansell, professor of comparative democratic institutions at the Department of Politics and International Relations, said: “This multi-wave study gives us a rare glimpse of whose opinions have shifted and why.“People have become massively more supportive of taking the vaccine overall but important gaps remain especially among groups whose trust in politicians is typically lower: non-voters, younger citizens, and poorer households.“When so much of the UK government’s lockdown exit strategy rests on successful vaccine rollout, these insights will be of immediate importance to policymakers in both their internal deliberation on policy and their outward facing communication with the public.”Related...5 Things You Might Have Missed In The Small Print Of Boris Johnson's RoadmapWhy Teachers Won’t Get Fast-Tracked In Boris Johnson’s Covid Vaccine Rollout
Five years ago to the day, then prime minister David Cameron stepped outside his front door and threw the nation into its biggest existential crisis in decades.
What we quickly came to know as was framed as a momentous shift in the political landscape from the off, with Cameron describing the referendum – which would eventually take place little more than four months later – as “one of the biggest decisions this country will face in our lifetimes”.
But it was February 20, 2016, 1,827 days ago, that the nebulous, tenuous idea of leaving the EU became tangible.
Suddenly we were all on one side or the other, and somehow – even with Brexit supposedly still behind us – many of us are still there.
But when it comes to Discourse™, there’s one current affairs topic that has truly come to dominate – and has done so with remarkable sticking power.
It was the fashion moment that launched a thousand Etsy pop-up shops, and caused actual Vogue to describe the look as “maximalist”.
For the last two years, we have consistently pointed out the need for a rupture in the existing political, economic and social arrangements in Britain. The system simply is not working for the majority, and Labour needs to be clear that we are determined to bring about root and branch change. The strategy we have adopted under Starmer’s leadership so far has simply not worked. “Constructive opposition” in a national crisis may play well with focus groups, but it is clear that seeking to gain narrow party advantage is totally inappropriate when people are dying and the hospitals are at breaking point. But in the real world it has embedded a Tory narrative that they’ve done as well as could be expected. This is clearly untrue. Outside of Westminster, hundreds of thousands of families have lost loved ones and millions more are in financial peril due to Tory incompetence and neoliberal ideology. Yet still they cling to a stubborn lead in the polls. While there was much in Keir Starmer’s speech on Thursday that members across the Labour party could find agreement with, it certainly didn’t feel like something which lived up to the hype. Opposing the cut to Universal Credit, refusing to back an increase in council tax and an end to the public sector pay freeze have widespread support, but are not earth-shattering pronouncements. This was an opportunity to dive headlong into the sea of challenges we face – but it felt like we merely dipped a toe in.
Our country is at serious risk of calamitous decline, and we must show how to break through to a new dawn.
Where Brexit catalysed changes in voting patterns, occurring over decades, Covid is hastening the demise of the high street, laying bare injustices in the workforce and showing the frailties of a public service network that has been wilfully neglected. This is to say nothing of the crises of our time like climate change, demographic ageing, or automation. Problems of this magnitude can not be met with timidity. They need a bold confident Labour Party showing another way. Although we have great faith in the British people’s abilities, the truth is our country is at serious risk of calamitous decline, and we must show how to break through to a new dawn. Invoking the spirit of the post-war government and using Marmot as a rallying call seems appropriate; the millions of people who have suffered ill health, financial distress and loneliness must be given the promise of a better future. But this has to go beyond rhetoric. In the same way as Clement Attlee’s Labour offered the opportunity for Britain to “win the peace”, the Labour of now must offer a vision of “winning the health”.We welcome the Labour plan to issue bonds to boost savings and fuel the post-Covid recovery, which was an innovative proposal in Starmer’s speech. But it falls short of the Marshall Plan-style scale of spending which is required to deliver the stated aim of stopping the neglect of British towns and villages in held back areas.
Billionaires have raked in profits driven by the disaster that has befallen us all. A Labour Party comfortable in its own skin would have no issue calling this out.
In outlining the new contract with the British people we must be both ambitious for our country and concrete in the steps we will take. That 70% of children in poverty are in working families shows the current settlement is bust. As we outline a new relationship with business, workers must be at the forefront of our minds. Of course Labour should not be anti-business, but neither should it be subservient to it. The pandemic has shown the best and worst elements of British business and we should be confident in saying those who have exploited the Covid crisis for a competitive edge should play no part in setting the priorities of our country. We should also be confident in saying that the public institutions that have kept our country afloat in the last year belong in public ownership. Over the course of the pandemic as working people have seen their finances decimated, UK billionaires have raked in profits driven by the disaster that has befallen us all. A Labour Party comfortable in its own skin would have no issue calling this out and demanding a windfall tax on the profits of disaster. This could be used to fuel the renaissance that towns in all of our constituencies desperately need. If Labour is to win again, it must remember its roots and be comfortable in articulating the anguish of communities that turned away from it. Starmer’s speech showed an acknowledgement that the previous strategy wasn’t working. We urge the leadership to look at the monolithic challenges we face, reject the triangulation of the past, and outline a path to a country that truly is the best place in which to grow up and grow old.Ian Lavery MP is the Labour MP for WansbeckJon Trickett MP is the Labour MP for HemsworthLaura Smith is a Labour councillor and former MP for Crewe and NantwichRelated...Starmer Tells His Party 'It's The Economy, Stupid'. But Is The Public Listening?Tony Blair Says Covid Passports 'Inevitable' At Home And AbroadBlack Labour MPs Hit Out At Keir Starmer After Delay To Forde Inquiry
Keir Starmer’s Big Speech mentioned the word “business” 22 times, “future” 19 times and “security” or “secure” 17 times. Those are crude metrics, but they give a sense of his priorities as he tried to use the half-term lull in Covid news to talk about politics beyond the pandemic: Labour’s changed and the country needs to change too.
While Starmer’s main aim was to call for a fundamental reset of government direction, some of his critics wanted an equally fundamental reset of his own party leadership. They didn’t get that, and anyone who expects anything other than careful, methodical iteration from Starmer clearly hasn’t been paying attention to how he has operated over the past five years.
What he did give, however, were more clues to just how he plans to climb the enormous electoral mountain that Labour faces ahead of the 2024 election.
The sheer steepness of the ascent is not just the cumulative effect of the Miliband era (when Labour voters first took the UKIP gateway drug to the later Brexit Party, and the SNP first smashed Labour’s Scottish seats at Westminster) and the Corbyn era (dire personal ratings, a non-credible policy platform and failure to combat ‘Get Brexit Done’).
Progressing from base camp has been made all the harder by coronavirus itself, with Boris Johnson and his ministers dominating the airwaves with new announcements and a public clearly focused on just getting through the latest lockdowns and willing things to get better. Starmer rightly picked up on Johnson’s claim that “we truly did everything we could” to protect life in the pandemic (an albatross that will hang round his neck come that public inquiry), but voters still cut the government some slack.
Tony Blair, who knows a thing or two about repositioning an Opposition, put it neatly last week when he told me: “Of course they want to hold the government to account, but they’ve got to do that in a way that doesn’t look churlish or mean spirited because most people in the country know whatever government’s in power, this is a nightmare to deal with and is extremely tough.”Labour leader Keir Starmer delivers a virtual speech on Britain's economic future in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic at Labour headquarters in central London." src="https://img.huffingtonpost.com/asset/602ebc11240000b701cbc4ca.jpg?cache=Z63gmi3esr&ops=scalefit_630_noupscale" />Still, the “constructive opposition” Starmer promised when he took over as leader has of late shifted to give as much emphasis on the opposing as the constructing. And his latest speech was all about providing an alternative vision to Boris Johnson’s, while trying to build the argument that a decade of Tory cuts and policy failure had left the UK fatally exposed.
Some of his internal critics may have been cheered to hear Starmer clearly place some of the blame for the huge health and economic damage of Covid on Tory “ideology” and short-termism. The message was plain: yes, I’ll be a more competent PM than Johnson, but I’ll also change the country with a stronger state.
But those repeated references to “business” were a rebuke not just to the Conservatives’ allergy to German-style state-business partnerships, but also to some in his own party. “If we’re honest, for too long Labour has failed to realise that the only way to deliver social justice and equality is through a strong partnership with business,” he said, a hint of a Blair-like barb at Corbyn/McDonnell era. Business is “not something just to be tolerated or taxed”, he added.
And in many ways, this speech was as much a repair job on Labour’s economic credibility as it was a call for a reset of the UK economy. Starmer knows that his personal ratings are the best of any Labour leader since Blair, but he also knows that the other key prerequisite of winning power is to win back the public’s trust when it comes to handling their money.
The main new policy in the speech, a British Recovery Bond, appears to have singularly underwhelmed his critics, as proof of yet another dull, uninspiring bit of managerialism. Yet in many ways the detail of the policy (what will its interest rate be? what exactly would it be spent on?) didn’t matter as much as the unifying message it was meant to send to the public: I’m offering a safe return for those who have piled up money in the pandemic, while using that money for long-term investment that will help the poorest.
It was no coincidence either that Starmer talked about the policy giving “security for savers”. Just as he wants to reassure the public that he’s strong on national security (on crime, terrorrism, defence) in a way Corbyn never was, he also wants to ram home economic insecurity as the Tories’ big weakness. A recovery bond may not set pulses racing, but it was another building block for that wider argument. And it was an answer to the question: what would you do right now if you were in power?
There are still obvious problems for Starmer on the economy. Just imagine if Rishi Sunak (pushed by his boss) makes a habit of inviting in the TUC to help draft policies like furlough in future? In ruling out tax rises now, in line with sensible economists like the IFS, Labour are trying to woo voters. But some of those same voters may be later bemused if a “wealth tax” is proposed in an election and weaponised by the Tories. The party has lots of fine words for the self-employed, a key voter group, but so far few policies to match.
Similarly, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds’s recent Mais Lecture shows Labour is now more radical in some ways than McDonnell in saying when the public finances should be rebalanced, but the party still struggles against Margaret Thatcher’s framing of national economies as if they were household budgets.
It would also have helped this speech if it hadn’t had some of the overselling hype beforehand. There was one claim that it was “six months in the making” (which would be five months longer than most conference speeches). There was talk of a rash of new policies, when in fact there were two (the recovery bond and a start-up fund for 100,000 new businesses).
Starmer’s own reference to a Beveridge Report-style “call to arms” exposed the fact that he simply hasn’t yet got such a sweeping set of proposals and certainly not in time for the March Budget that he talked about. But if he now follows up with his own updated Five Giants (including climate change, social care, childcare and other 21st century concerns all highlighted by the pandemic) in coming months, then at least he can claim he made a start today.
Starmer realises that many of the public right now are focused more when they can next see their extended family than when they can next see an early draft of Labour’s manifesto for 2024. The public are also much more interested in a party leader’s judgement and values than specific retail policy lists. Yet just as the average eight-week expedition to Everest takes years to plan, a successful three-week election campaign needs years of groundwork beforehand. Starmer has only just really begun.
Boris Johnson has appointed his chief Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost to the Cabinet.The peer, who led Brexit talks with EU opposite number Michel Barnier on both the withdrawal agreement and trade and cooperation agreement, will work as a minister in the Cabinet Office under Michael Gove.He will be a “full member” of the Cabinet, Downing Street said, and will focus on “domestic reform and regulation to maximise on the opportunities of Brexit”.The former civil servant has long been an ally of Johnson, who first hired him as a special adviser when serving as foreign secretary in 2016.When Johnson took over as prime minister in 2019, he hired Frost as a special adviser and his chief Brexit negotiator, and last year handed him a peerage. Frost said he was “hugely honoured” to be promoted to the Cabinet and will do the job “standing on the shoulders of giants and particularly those of Michael Gove”.I am hugely honoured to have been appointed Minister to take forward our relationship with the EU after Brexit.In doing so I stand on the shoulders of giants & particularly those of @michaelgove who did an extraordinary job for this country in talks with EU over the past year.— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) February 17, 2021Frost will lead the UK’s institutional and strategic relationship with the EU, including on international trade and economic issues.He will also chair the UK side of the partnership council which will oversee the trade agreement, and the joint committee which will preside over the withdrawal agreement.It comes amid concern about how the operation of both deals is affecting businesses and creative industries in the UK.And it comes amid ongoing negotiations over Northern Ireland’s status after the Brexit transition ended on December 31.Frost’s appointment will take effect from March 1.Related...Remember Operation Moonshot? Well, Here's What Happened With Matt Hancock's Testing PlanAwkward... Boris Johnson Jokes About OJ Simpson Murder Trial On Vaccine VisitPubs Likely To Be Among Last To Reopen When Lockdown Ends, Suggests Boris Johnson