Archive for April, 2016

Stronger In or Vote Leave: The view from a pro-European

11/04/2016, 10:26:40 PM

In the fifth in a series looking at the views of people from outside of the political bubble, on the EU referendum, Lucy Ashton gets the pro-European perspective.

David looks out from his countryside home over the windswept landscape; fields and farms which seem isolated yet are just a few miles from the bustling city centre of Sheffield.

The city has always been dubbed “a dirty picture in a golden frame” because of its industrial steel heritage bounded by the beautiful Peak District.

For David, the bigger picture includes our European neighbours as well as the glorious rolling hills of Yorkshire. He readily admits that “people are better being part of something larger”.

Sheffielders often say they don’t live in a city but a collection of villages which echoes David’s thoughts on the EU.

“I think we will all be financially better off as part of the EU, but more than this, I think that people are better together being part of a bigger ‘tribe’ than being split into smaller tribes,” he explains, bending down to pat one of his dogs.

“I recall the fundamental logic for setting up the EU included the rationale that the member states would not go to war with each other if they were so tightly bound in one organisation.

“For much of my life that seemed kind of theoretical only. I mean after World War Two it was just unthinkable that European countries would go to war, or that we would see state sponsored genocide, right?

“And then the Eastern Bloc fell apart, Yugoslavia fell apart and we all saw what happened in Serbia and Bosnia. So I think it a very real danger that separate European states will find a reason to go to war, so it is essential that the EU is successful. And Britain’s role in that is essential so we should stay.”


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The inside story of why Corbyn forgot to mention IDS when responding to THAT Cameron statement

07/04/2016, 10:31:00 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Wondering how things could possibly get worse for Labour? Ponder no more. Here’s a mess involving Damian McBride, Jeremy Corbyn, splits in the leader’s office and quiet preparations for a move from the left to replace Corbyn.

Uncut has learned that Damian McBride is back, secretly working for the Labour leader.

Although he is nominally employed by Emily Thornberry as a political adviser covering the defence brief, a significant part of his work has been for the leader’s office, writing briefings and speaking notes for the Labour leader.

Uncut understands that McBride was asked to prepare Jeremy Corbyn’s response to David Cameron’s EU statement before Easter – a statement that fell the day after Iain Duncan Smith’s explosive appearance on Marr where the former Cabinet minister excoriated the government for deepening division in the country.

By all accounts, Damian McBride prepared a robust and effective rejoinder for Labour’s leader with Iain Duncan Smith’s barbed words at the heart of the brief.

Jeremy Corbyn had the notes with him before he entered the chamber. He’d read them and his office expected him to use them.

But he didn’t.

Instead, Labour’s leader freelanced. He made his response up as he went along and the rest is history.

No mention of Iain Duncan Smith. Cameron off the hook. Ridicule, bafflement and defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

The episode is illustrative of the deepening dysfunction within Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle and his own increasingly uncomfortable position.


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Forget Sajid Javid, the mess at Port Talbot is down to George Osborne

06/04/2016, 10:06:42 PM

by Ranjit Sidhu 

It was just a couple of months ago, in February this year, that it was reported the UK government was central to sinking the European Union’s initiative to increase tariffs on dumping by Chinese companies, such as with steel.

Then, as now, Sajid Javid justified it’s stance with the familiar neo-liberal economic line that increasing tariffs would hit UK businesses by making the steel they purchase more expensive and that it would be wrong to put tariffs in the way of the cleansing winds of the free trade.

It is a familiar argument that has held sway over British politics ever since it was used to bludgeon the coal industry out of existence in the 1980s.

The stance on trade in the Conservative manifesto of “pushing for freer global trade” gave ethical backing for the policy driven by the chancellor George Osborne on China, nicknamed “The Osborne Doctrine”

At core the policy was to push under the carpet human rights and other ethical differences, become China’s “best partner in the west” by, for example sinking any new European tariffs on Chinese companies, allow Chinese companies to invest in the UK’s critical infrastructure, then hope the Chinese reciprocate by allowing UK companies into the fiercely guarded internal market – everybody wins.

Except, Port Talbot shows they don’t.

Why this policy inevitably led to events like the potential closing down of Port Talbot is obvious when you look a bit deeper into the economics of steel production:  the largest Chinese “companies” that produce steel are Baosteel and Hebei Iron and Steel, both are completely state owned and run organisations.


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The idea that the sugar tax will benefit primary school sport is laughable

05/04/2016, 09:42:35 PM

by Lucy Ashton

The cherry on the Chancellor’s Budget cake was the celebrity-hyped sugar tax.

Jamie Oliver took credit for persuading the Government to impose a tax on sugary drinks, which is estimated to cost the equivalent of 18p to 25p per litre.

The Government says the £530m the tax will raise will be spent on sport in primary schools, although drink companies have until 2018 to change their recipes and reduce the amount of sugar before the new tax comes in.

But this is a bittersweet tax which will hardly help nation’s obesity problem – a crisis which health officials say poses a greater threat than terrorism.

The Youth Sport Trust says one in three children who leave primary school are obese or overweight  – putting them at an increased risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease along with developing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

But the new tax will barely tackle this issue. For a start, everyone slurping these high calorie drinks knows they are full of the white stuff. The real tax should be on the manufacturers who sweeten everything from cereals and yoghurts to tomato soup and bread – savoury food with hidden sugar.

The idea that the tax will benefit primary school sport is laughable. Around 10,000 playing fields were sold off under the 1979-1997 Conservative governments. There were a total of 31 plans to sell off school playing fields approved by the coalition government.

Sport England is so concerned, it is spending £33 million of National Lottery funding to protect and improve community sports fields.

And the playing fields are only needed if schools actually have PE lessons. Growing financial constraints and increasing demands from Ofsted to focus on the core subjects mean PE is often sidelined.

Darren Padgett is director of Team Activ, an award winning not-for-profit organisation which provides sports competitions, PE teacher training and after school sports clubs with all of Barnsley’s secondary schools and two thirds of primary schools.

Darren says the sugar tax is a start but far more needs to be done to improve sport in schools.

“At Team Activ, we strongly believe in the power of sport to improve academic and behavioural standards but the last few years have been particularly difficult for those responsible for delivering physical education in schools.

“The sugar tax is a step in the right direction, but the funds raised for sport in schools need to be ring-fenced to ensure they are allocated correctly.

“We’ve seen very positive results: schools involved in our programmes report more motivated pupils, higher self-esteem and better behaviour within class.”

It’s clear we need a fully rounded strategy, involving diet, exercise and education to tackle the obesity timebomb, not just a sprinkling of sweeteners.

Lucy Ashton is a journalist and former Political Editor

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John Whittingdale, allegations of a relationship with a dominatrix and Leveson. What on earth is going on?

02/04/2016, 10:45:16 PM

John Whittingdale has apparently not decided whether or not to issue a ‘commencement order’, which is a formality within the provision of the Crime and Courts Act.

The Act will allow judges to impose costs on newspapers who force plaintiffs to go through expensive court actions because they have not signed up to a recognized independent regulator providing a low cost arbitration service.

Many acts of parliament require commencement orders to bring them into force, just to give the bureaucracy a chance to prepare. Parliament passed the act, with cross-party support, and it did not intend for the Secretary of State to be given the authority to unilaterally repeal it.

Whittingdale apparently mutters something about how Parliament and Leveson had envisaged a situation where one or two newspapers were resisting joining a recognized regulator, rather than where all of the major newspapers have refused point blank.

Whatever Leveson intended, it surely wasn’t the situation we are in now.

Whittingdale not only has to decide the future of the BBC, but also has his finger hovering over a button that newspapers desperately do not want him to press.

The whole argument of those who opposed Leveson’s reforms, an argument that Leveson himself carefully tried to address and design his system around, was that they did not want the government to have the power to interfere in the freedom of the press.

And yet here Whittingdale is claiming that he is hesitating because he himself is worried about that very thing, while he knows that the press must be careful not to upset him in case he decides to push his button.

Meanwhile rumours abound that the papers have some lurid scandal up their sleeve and are holding him to ransom.

This story on on the culture secretary, with allegations of a relationship with a dominatrix, has been widely shared on social media. If true, it raises questions about Whittingdale’s judgement and whether he is escaping media exposure because of his position on Leveson. (more…)

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Stronger In or Vote Leave: The view from the gym

01/04/2016, 10:14:47 PM

In the fourth in a series looking at the views of people from outside of the political bubble, on the EU referendum, Lucy Ashton gets the perspective from the local gym.

Peter is chatting while strolling on a treadmill, working out at the sprightly age of 82 at a special gym session for people with medical conditions.

The gym members, who are mostly over the age of 60, are debating the EU referendum between bursts on the rowing machine and cross trainer.

“I want to come out of the EU,” says Peter, determinedly. “They are passing laws which we then have to accept without any discussion. The EU even decides how many seabass you can take home after fishing.

“There are too many regulations and I don’t think we should be told what to do.”

Jeff, who is 76, agrees. “Anybody with any sense wants to come out,” he says, while lifting weights on a machine.

“I voted in the last referendum in 1975 on whether we should stay in the Common Market and back then I said yes because it was helping us.

“But that’s now changed, it’s grown into the EU with a huge block of 28 states. It’s all talking with no business getting done. We have finished up with the tail wagging the dog.”

Two women on neighbouring treadmills are also in deep discussion.

“I don’t know what to do, how should I vote?” one asks her friend.

“Out, definitely out,” her friend replies. “I read somewhere that we give £35m every day in subsidies to the EU but we can’t look after our own people and are constantly told we don’t have enough money to pay for services in our own country.”

“But what about my European Health Card when I go on holiday? Won’t that be affected?”

“Have you ever used that card? No. Besides, everyone has travel insurance anyway.”

She starts a comical “out, out, out” chant reminiscent of a union leader rallying the workforce, laughing along with her friend.

There’s a discussion about whether UK farmers would be worse or better off and the general view is they would be better off. One woman puzzles about what benefits she receives from Europe.

This handful of people seem firmly in the exit camp without any canvassing from the politicians. As one man pulling on weights sums up: “There will be a small minority who are swayed but I think people already know in their heart which way to vote.”

Lucy Ashton is a journalist and former Political Editor

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Corbyn’s incompetence almost makes you feel sorry for the hard left

01/04/2016, 06:29:15 PM

by Samuel Dale

Last month, George Osborne delivered one of the most shambolic budgets in years.

Just days before he announced it, he pulled a massive u-turn on his headline policy by scrapping long held plans to reform pensions tax relief.

He didn’t want to risk the ire of Tory MPs during the EU referendum campaign.

It left a massive hole in the budget that was quickly filled with large cuts to disability benefits. A shocking cut that would have affected thousands of the most vulnerable people in Britain.

Just hours later he U-turned on the disability cuts too.

Then Iain Duncan Smith resigned as DWP secretary blasting government cuts and Osborne personally.

The disability cuts u-turn has left a giant hole in the budget. The Red Book does not add up for the first time in living memory.

Only Gordon Brown’s 10p income tax disaster comes close and that shambles scarred him forever.

Unbelievable budget incompetence comes as the Tories are involved in vicious splits over Europe with minister pitted against minister. Cameron v Boris. And every MP attacking everyone else.

In the midst of this chaos, Tata Steel announced they are planning to close their UK steel plants with as many as 40,000 jobs at risk.


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