Category Archives: uncategorized

Financial Times prioritises exposé – in the public interest? Ignores Yemeni slaughter – in the commercial interest?

The official purpose of the Presidents Club Charity Dinner last Thursday was to raise money for good causes such as the Great Ormond Street Hospital for children. It was attended by 360 figures from the business world, politics, finance and the entertainment world – politicians, oligarchs, property tycoons, film producers, financiers and chief executives.

Auction lots advertised included a lunch with foreign secretary Boris Johnson hosted by Ian Botham and tea with Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England.

It was a black tie evening – men only invited – with 130 specially hired hostesses. Attendees included David Meller, a non-executive director at the Department for Education and one of the trustees of the Presidents Club and Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Children and Families in the Department for Education. A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Zahawi had “attended briefly and felt uncomfortable at what had begun to happen.”

Other media outlets have reported the depressing details itemised in the Financial Times.

The BoE said: “The Bank of England did not approve any prize for auction on the occasion described nor would it have for that organisation under its guidelines for charitable giving.” It was today announced that David Meller has stepped down from his Government role. Advertising corporate WPP, which had sponsored a table at the dinner, and the Bank of England have now both severed all ties with the charity organisation. Great Ormond Street hospital, one of the beneficiaries of the dinner, will return donations from the organisation’s charitable trust as a result of the “wholly unacceptable nature of the event”.

Meanwhile in the same week, the Financial Times reported twice on the aid being given to Yemen by Saudi Arabia but not the lethal assistance given by Britain’s friend and ally to the Yemen national army to ‘neutralise’ a Houthi group. The Jerusalem Post reports that an air strike in north-west Yemen killed eight civilians on January 22nd, including four children and two women, as part of the new offensive launched in December.

 

 

 

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Human rights after Brexit, ‘reliant on Parliamentary goodwill’ . . .

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Amendment 2 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, aimed to retain the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and ensure that it would be transferred, with the rest of EU law, when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

 

See: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2017-2019/0147/amend/eu_daily_rep_0115.1-7.html

 Graphic: https://skwawkbox.org/2018/01/18/308-tories-voted-last-night-fundamental-rights-not-part-of-domestic-law-on-or-after-exit-day/

 

They include the rights: 

o    to life

o    not to be tortured, or experimented on against our will

o    to liberty and security

o    to private and family life

o    to freedom of thought and expression

o    to academic freedom

o    to education

o    to equality before the law

o    to fair and just working conditions

o    to be protected from unfair dismissal

o    to social security and protections

o    to vote

o    to good government

o    to freedom of movement

o    to a fair trial 

“The guarantee to the British people is that their Parliament will look after their rights.”

                      

MP John Redwood argued, “the best guarantee of the fundamental rights of the British people is the will of the British people as expressed through the Parliaments they elect . . .The guarantee to the British people is that their Parliament will look after their rights.”

The former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, however, pointed out that “the whole point about the Human Rights Act was that it added to protections enjoyed under the common law and did so in a way that was compatible with this House’s sovereignty.” He said that failing to incorporate the Charter into UK law after Brexit would send out a strange message about the Conservative’s approach to human rights, and urged peers to consider the issue when the bill passes to the House of Lords. In the understatement of the year he added: “Nice as it is to rely upon the Executive’s goodwill… that goodwill is not something that we should always rely on”.

Despite the Labour Leader’s concern about jettisoning the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. 48 Labour MPs, including Daniel Zeichner, Chuka Umunna, Ben Bradshaw, Chris Bryant, Frank Field, Kate Hoey and Graham Stringer voted for the EU Withdrawal Bill, which passed through the House of Commons by 322 votes to 99.

 

 

 

 

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Oborne: “Jeremy Corbyn’s principled silence on Iran protests demands respect”

“One of the best things about Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has been his challenge to the failed British foreign policy establishment”Peter Oborne.

For the last week the Labour leader has come under persistent pressure to speak up in support of the protesters in Iran rather than the far larger numbers of Iranian pro-government supporters march during a rally in the city of Mashhad, Iran, on January 4.

On Wednesday, the Times urged Jeremy Corbyn to speak out against Iran’s actions. The Daily Telegraph calls for ‘brave anti-regime protestors’ to be supported by all and singled out Corbyn. Many others have joined in.

Corbyn is no opportunist

Oborne points out that nothing would have been easier for Corbyn than to have given in to his critics and come up with a strongly worded statement condemning Iran’s Supreme Leader – adding “Bear in mind there are no votes for Corbyn in Tehran. A routine denunciation would have earned him praise in parts of the British press where he is normally reviled, and at zero electoral cost”.

The truth is Corbyn’s recent record on foreign policy has been measured and sensible. Corbyn’s principled silence is prudent and sensible. It reflects the fact that at this stage we simply don’t know for certain what is going on inside Iran.

US President Donald Trump praised protesters for taking on a “brutal and corrupt” Iranian government. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also wished protesters “success in their noble quest for freedom”. Trump and Netanyahu each have their reasons for getting involved.

The claim that foreign interference has played its part has been ridiculed, but US and Britain have long meddled in the country’s affairs. Oborne believes that Western policy should be held to account:

  • In 1953, they overthrew democratically elected prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh after he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now BP.
  • Only 10 years ago it was being widely reported around Whitehall that a Western military attack on Iran was all but inevitable.
  • When the neo-cons were banging the drum for an invasion of Iraq, Corbyn wisely advised against. It turned out to be a catastrophe.
  • Corbyn was against the invasion of Afghanistan, and proved right.
  • Corbyn was one of a handful of MPs who voted against an attack on Libya. Once again, how right he was!

Corbyn’s record suggests that his judgment on foreign affairs demands respect. Corbyn’s critics also accuse him of being selective. But his critics are also extremely selective. They have made the most of recent events in Iran. By contrast the savage crackdown on Shia dissidents in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, or Palestinian protesters in the West Bank, gets far less attention. British military involvement in the atrocities committed by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen is routinely ignored in the BBC and elsewhere.

Now Newsweek reports that President Emmanuel Macron has accused the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia of instigating a war as Iran was rocked by a week of protests. several other world leaders. The French leader called for dialogue with Tehran and criticized three of his international partners for pursuing what he considered bellicose policies toward a country the trio have increasingly sought to isolate and undermine in recent years.“The official line pursued by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are our allies in many ways, is almost one that would lead us to war,” Macron told reporters, according to Reuters

President Donald Trump decertified President Barack Obama’s 2015 Iran nuclear deal, of which France was also a signatory and an eager supporter, and has subjected Iran to a travel ban and increased sanctions over accusations it backs terrorism across the Middle East.

Trump has most recently weaponized his Twitter account to launch a barrage of insults against Iran’s leadership and voice support for the scores of Iranian citizens trying to “take back their corrupt government.” He offered “great support,” seeking to align himself with those calling to displace, rather than amend, the revolutionary Shiite Muslim government in the country, despite these voices currently being a minority among protesters on the ground. Trump was quickly accused of meddling in international affairs and of mishandling matters of diplomacy on Twitter.

As Oborne ends:

“One of the best things about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has been his challenge to the failed British foreign policy establishment. Long may he continue! The time may come when we are in a position to make sober judgments about recent events in Iran. In the meantime Britain is fortunate to have an opposition leader who knows when to stay silent”.

 

 

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http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/corbyns-silence-iran-protests-demands-respect-403416110

http://www.newsweek.com/us-israel-saudi-arabia-leading-world-war-iran-france-says-770728

 

Broken Britain 13 – OfS: Young’s appointment confirms fears raised by McKinsey partner at the helm and its self-regulation policy

And yet Education Secretary Justine Greening says that the OfS will be tasked with ensuring the “world class reputation” of the UK’s universities is maintained.

https://www.conservatives.com/sharethefacts/2017/10/justine-greening-education-and-skills-will-unlock-our-nations-talent?z

The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 established The Office for Students (OfS) as the government-approved regulatory and competition authority for the higher education sector in England from 1 April 2018. The OfS will inherit most of HEFCE’s funding, the administration of the Teaching Excellence Framework and the Register of Higher Education Providers.

Causes for concern include:

Ø  The chairman: Sir Michael Barber, who served as Chief Education Advisor at multinational textbook publisher Pearson, is a partner at McKinsey, the arch-globalising management consultants, rallying from its role in the collapsed Enron ‘empire’ and insider trading in 2011.

Ø  Its policy objective: opening the sector up to increased competition – McKinsey cheers

Ø  Its monitoring standards (TES reports), formerly undertaken by the Quality Assurance in Education (remit set by government commissioned Dearing Report), will now be done in-house – by drawing on assurances from governing bodies and evidence from annual institutional data returns*.

Ø  And the appointment of Michael Gove’s close friend Toby Young to the board of OfS, which, as Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) said, is raising serious questions about the OfS’ role in the sector.

 

Toby Young’s track record

Several media reports recall Young’s words in a 1988 book The Oxford Myth, edited by the sister of Jo Johnson , now Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, that the arrival of ‘stains’ –working-class students – changed Oxford, and that they were ‘universally unattractive’ and ‘small, vaguely deformed undergraduates’  adding, ‘It was as if all the meritocratic fantasies of every 1960s educationalist had come true and all Harold Wilson’s children had been let in at the gate’.

They also point to a column he wrote for the Spectator in 2012, in which he complained about the ‘ghastly inclusivity’ of wheelchair ramps at schools. ‘Inclusive,’ he wrote. ‘It’s one of those ghastly, politically correct words that has survived the demise of New Labour. Schools have got to be “inclusive” these days. His terms for disabled children of lower intelligence was ‘‘functionally illiterate troglodyte[s]’

Is it unfair to describe such remarks as stupid, cruel and bigoted?

Contempt seems to be his speciality; a video tweeted by Teacher Toolkit, worth watching for Young’s facial expression which ‘speaks volumes’. Extract: “Teachers complain a lot about how tough their job is, but, you know, the day begins in most schools at nine o’clock, ends at 3.30pm. They have six weeks’ holiday during the summer, two weeks’ holiday at Easter and at Christmas. Yes, they don’t just work when they’re at school, but even so, compared to a lot of other jobs, it’s not that tough.’

West London Free School opening day ceremony

Toby Young, first known to the writer through his repellent articles in The Spectator, founded the West London Free School in 2011, now a mini free school empire.

The latest news is that, though set up with a pledge to attract and retain outstanding teachers, the school has just named its fourth permanent head in the six years since it opened.

Can this man really be the government’s wisest choice for universities regulator?

 

 

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A heartless government aids the bombing of Middle Eastern families and cuts funding to the terrorised in Britain

Whilst loudly condemning those who place a hand on another’s knee – words are so cheap – the government is cheerfully proposing to leave many living in fear of battering and broken limbs or even death. It is reported that two women are killed by male partners each week or seven each month.

Steve Walker quotes the ‘little-remarked news’ shared last weekend by the Guardian and elaborated on by the National CAN network: “It has been revealed that plans announced by the government will result in the closure of 39% of women’s domestic violence refuges, according to a survey by Women’s Aid – with another 13% having to reduce the number of places they offer”.

He ends by pointing out that even under the current, pre-change system 60% of women turned away from refuges last year – now almost 40% are to close

Government is prepared to spend money on enquiries into harassment on its own premises (annoying but hardly life-threatening) but remove short-term supported housing from eligibility for the housing benefit of the people who stay there – which currently forms 53% of refuge funding. The estimated effect of these changes will be that well over 4,000 more women and children in need will be unable to find refuge.

Until a more caring government helps to build strong regional economies enabling all to make a contribution and have a satisfying life, the current regime should at least maintain provision for the attacked women – and also for the 713,000 men who experienced domestic abuse last year, according to official estimates (See First Step Leicester). 

This heartless and shameless government consistently prioritises the welfare of its peer group – not only when it comes to aid and taxation – but strikingly in refusing promised aid for sprinklers in tower blocks, post Grenfell, whilst announcing that the parliament buildings will be fitted with the system. In effect: “Me first – you stupid”.

 

 

 

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Chemical attack, government approved

Richard Bruce draws attention to an issue of Chemical Concern which needs political redress

Georgina Downs (left) is a journalist and campaigner, whose health has been damaged by chemical sprays on fields (opposite) near her family home in Sussex. Read more on her UK Pesticides Campaign website.

She compares the situation with the Grenfell Tower tragedy – in that Grenfell residents had repeatedly warned of the dangers but were effectively ignored – and warns that the Government dismisses health and safety risks raised by those directly affected at its peril.

In a 15 page article, which may be read here, she is naturally outraged that poisonous chemicals – originally designed as weapons of war – have been allowed for many decades, under successive Government policies, to be sprayed on crop fields all over the UK (and most other countries), with literally no protection at all for millions of rural citizens living or attending schools in the locality of such chemically treated areas. This ‘conventional farming’ process has caused thousands of residents to suffer devastating, even fatal, consequences to their health and lives.

A clear case of double standards – Syria and UK:

Georgina points out that earlier this year the Prime Minister rightly condemned the chemical poisoning of innocent civilians in Syria. So it smacks of sheer hypocrisy that her Government continues to permit the chemical poisoning of innocent people – including babies and young children – in this country.

Some of the acute adverse health effects recorded includes: chemical burns (including to the eyes and skin); rashes and blistering; throat irritation (eg. sore and painful throats); damaged vocal chords; difficulty swallowing; chest discomfort; sinus pain; respiratory irritation; breathing problems; shortness of breath; asthma attacks; headaches, dizziness, nausea; vomiting; stomach pains; flu-type illnesses; and aching joints. The most common chronic long-term effects, illnesses and diseases reported to Georgina’s campaign from residents living in the locality of crop sprayed fields include neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Motor Neurone Disease, and neurological damage, as well as various cancers, especially those of the breast and brain, leukaemia, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, amongst other chronic conditions.

The health and societal costs of such chronic health impacts are colossal.

In an ongoing petition with testimonies from affected residents, the Prime Minister Theresa May, and DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove, are asked to protect rural residents and communities by banning all crop spraying and use of any pesticides near residents’ homes, schools, and children’s playgrounds. The petition has been signed by Hillsborough QC Michael Mansfield, Jonathon Porritt, Gordon Roddick, Ben Goldsmith, and politicians Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones, among others.

The agricultural sector is by far and away the largest user, as approx. 80% of pesticides used in the UK each year is related to agricultural use. Insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides are the main types of pesticides used in agriculture. Latest Government statistics show that in relation to just pesticides alone (ie. not including chemical fertilisers and all the other agro chemicals used in conventional farming), in 2014 the total area treated with pesticides on agricultural and horticultural crops was 80,107,993 hectares.

A key scientific advisor to the Government, Professor Ian Boyd*, has now issued a damning assessment of the regulatory approach used around the world for pesticides sprayed on crops – albeit the failings are still not detailed strongly or extensively enough by any means. Professor Boyd’s article published in the journal Science says regulatory systems worldwide have ignored the impacts of “dosing whole landscapes”, and so the assumption by regulators globally that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes “is false” and must change.

How much has changed since the judgement in November 2008 by the High Court, which ruled that the Government was failing to adequately protect rural communities from the harmful effects of pesticide spraying – a judgment overturned on appeal?

The existing chemical conventional farming system has been an untested, unregulated, and unlawful experiment with human health and the environment to which untold damage has already taken place.

*Prof Boyd: see https://gmandchemicalindustry9.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/the-effects-of-agro-chemicals-have-been-largely-ignored-by-regulatory-systems/

 

 

 

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Austerity 3: Universal Credit – another cut for many of the poorest?

In 2015, Welfare Weekly reported that research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that 2.6million working families on Universal Credit would lose £1,600 a year from the changes and 1.9 million would be £1,400 a year better off.

Analysis from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility suggested the changes to universal credit would save the chancellor close to £3bn by 2019-20 – a figure quoted by Public Finance:.

Graph from House of Commons Library blog, last November, ‘Jam Tomorrow’

In March this year a study by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the IPPR thinktank  that a series of cuts and changes have left the government’s flagship welfare overhaul failing to meet its original aims.

Families with children are the biggest losers under the cuts made to universal credit since it was first established, with some families left thousands of pounds worse off, according to a new analysis.

Lone parent families will be on average £2,380 a year worse off, while families with two children lose £1,100 on average and those with three youngsters lose £2,540. Lone parents and couples where one parent works part-time to care for young children are hit particularly hard and face having have to find up to two days’ extra work a week to meet the shortfall in income from the cuts.

Although universal credit was intended to boost household incomes by strengthening incentives for claimants to move into work or take on more hours, more families will be worse off than under the scheme’s original design, it says. Currently just 450,000 people are on universal credit, which is not expected to be fully operational across the country until 2022. At that point, according to estimates by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2.1 million families will be worse off under the new system, and 1.8 million better off.

 

 

 

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Northern Ireland farmers deliver messages on Brexit, free trade and legislation on farmgate prices to the Head of the EC Office

Farmers For Action and the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NI Farm Groups) met the Head of the European Commission Office in Northern Ireland in Belfast, Mrs Colette FitzGerald.

They delivered three clear messages on:

  • Brexit,
  • Free trade deals
  • and legislation on farm gate prices.

Brexit

The two organisations put the case to the EU Commission representative that come what may there must be no North South border, such are the fears of all concerned of where that could lead.

Northern Ireland as a whole has gone forward in leaps and bounds since the Good Friday agreement with much more possible – a border would be a massive step back in time and progress that must never be allowed to happen!

Free Trade deals

The EU currently putting in a huge effort into Mercosur and other major world trade deals and the current UK Government is preparing free trade deals around the world in order to be sign ready the day after it leaves the EU!

NI Farm Groups forcefully pointed out to Colette FitzGerald that neither the EU nor the current Westminster Government should complete free trade deals where commonly produced staples – by current or potential new free trade deals – end up in food swaps – ie ships passing in the night between two trading countries carrying the same food cargo – as this makes a complete nonsense of the Paris climate change agreement and those who participated. (Note the detailed food swap report by then MEP Caroline Lucas: Stopping the Great Food Swap – relocalising Europe’s food supply).

Certainly the farmers at either end of these food swaps are suffering financially, while the food corporates, facilitated by Governments and the EU, continue to throw caring for the planet to the wind and fill their pockets!  The Groups made clear that such is the increasing control of the corporate foodgiants across the EU and the UK that when and if we eventually leave the EU that legislation is still needed for NI if it is to succeed and prosper in a manner befitting the 21st century!

William Taylor (FFA, NI) says that the message is clear, either the Paris climate change agreement is nonsense or the current and future planned free trade deals are nonsense.

On the case for legislation on farmgate prices NI Farm Groups made it clear, that whether we eventually leave the EU or not, currently the EU is not delivering on its treaty promises that rural dwellers should be properly rewarded for their work. In short, when the market is not working, there is a case for state intervention and NI Farm Groups have a legislation bill complete and ready for Stormont immediately it returns!

Colette FitzGerald, in her role as the bridge between the EU and NI EU citizens, sought to clarify the EU’s approach to the Brexit Article 50 negotiations and the timetable ahead:

  • Michel Barnier and his team will work through August to again meet David Davis and his team on the 28th August.
  • Mr Barnier will then prepare a report on the state of negotiations for the next meeting of the European Council (Heads of State) in October 2017.
  • At this point the Member States will judge whether enough progress has been made on the ‘divorce’ settlement to begin to plan discussions on the UK’s future relationship with the EU after Brexit.
  • The eventual Brexit deal must be completed by end March 2019 although in practice, it would need to be done months earlier to allow individual Member States to ratify it so that means time is pressing for the actual negotiations.
  • No one Member State can veto any final deal as it can be approved by a majority of Member States representing at least 65% of EU citizens.
  • The European Parliament will also have a vote.

Any extension to this March 2019 deadline is only possible if all the EU27 agree to do so.

Colette FitzGerald explained that an important part of her role is to make regular, indeed daily reports to Brussels and would include Northern Ireland Farm Groups three extremely important issues. Our Voice is being heard!

Contact: William Taylor

 

NI Farm Groups

56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU

Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624 Email taylor.w@btconnect.com

 

 

 

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Activists plan ‘rave’: Conservative answer to Glastonbury, designed to provide a cool gloss to Theresa May’s party

Henry Mance, FT’s Political Correspondent writes: “Camping. Slow food. Inspirational speakers. A Pyramid stage. It could be Glastonbury, except for one feature: Tory activists . . . The festival will be invitation-only with between 150 and 200 attendees, some of whom will camp”.

Mr Freeman said he hoped the event would become an annual fixture, adding that this year’s festival would be like a “first rave, you’ll remember who you brought” – unlikely!

Organisers of a new “Conservative Ideas Festival” are hoping to revive the spirit and popular appeal of Theresa May’s party after its battering in June’s general election. The party’s membership has fallen to somewhere below 150,000 — less than one-third that of Labour’s and not far ahead of the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrats.

The party has fallen behind Labour in opinion polls, while Mrs May’s personal ratings are below those of Mr Corbyn, who was once seen as unelectable.

George Freeman, the Norfolk MP who chairs Mrs May’s policy board, came up with the idea after Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn took the Glastonbury Festival by storm this summer. “Why is it just the left who have all the fun in politics?” he said after Mr Corbyn’s appearance. saying his idea for a rightwing festival “seems to have struck a chord” and that he had “some wonderful offers of help of sponsorship and venues”. He told the Financial Times this week that he had raised £25,000 for a one-day event to be held in September.

The Conservatives will also hold their annual party conference in Manchester at the start of October, charging companies £32,500 for a 6m by 6m exhibition stand. Can’t wait!

 

 

 

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Is it wise to forget disloyalty, to reward failure?

Mischief-making media and party factions are suggesting that Labour MPs who were consistently disloyal to Jeremy Corbyn and even attempted to remove him, be promoted to the cabinet.

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, was reported in several media outlets to be advising Jeremy Corbyn not to break up Labour’s “winning team” of frontbenchers who had given full support to him deptie the pressures from the media and the 170 Labour MPs who did not.

Fair weather friends

Chuka Umunna, the former shadow business secretary, appeared to consider the move when he spoke out about the results on Friday on TV and several other critics admitted that they had been mistaken in theor assessment of Corbyn’sd potential.

As McDonnell said: “Our shadow cabinet at the moment was a winning team. It just won effectively votes that no one predicted that we would so I don’t want to break up that winning team”.

And they proved their worth under stress when others like Umunna, Phillips, Cooper and Woodcock failed their leader – and might do so again.  

 

 

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