Exclusive on Byline Times: Disappearing London voters as foreign buyers and new build AirBnBs flood neighbourhoods

110-112 Vauxhall Bridge Road; One of the AirBnBs block of apartments springing up in Westminster Pic credit: booking.com
The Surprise: This was the old pub that is now a new rebuilt AirBnb The original planning application was for it to be replaced by residential housing.

I have done a special investigation for Byline Times showing the extraordinary contrast between the decline of the electorate in Westminster and Kensington and the huge property and tourist boom bringing in non voting oligarchs, foreign buyers and purpose built blocks of AirBnBs.

This may have contributed to Labour winning Battersea and Kensington from the Conservatives at the last election. This time it is not so clear as Labour and the Lib Dems are vying for votes.

See my full story here.

Exclusive on Byline Times: MPs £8.4m second jobs and how Boris Johnson made a £1m in the last Parliament

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn at the state opening of Parliament. Boris Johnson made £1m including £800,000 from second jobs and speeches, Jeremy Corbyn nothing from a second income. Pic Credit: parliament.uk Jessica Taylor

Today I have published from a new database how much money MPs made from second jobs in the last Parliament with Boris Johnson top of the premier league of high earners. Read the full story in Byline Times here and see for yourself from a link to the database here. You can check your own MP.

John McDonnell explains the Labour pensions offer to 50swomen over more than tea and sympathy.

John McDonnell with Azhar Ali, Labour candidate for Pendle, explaining the offer to some of the women

For those who are following the fight by all groups to get compensation for 3.8 million women who have waited up to six years for their pensions, here is a detailed video with John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor on how he intends to implement the £58 billion package

There are a number of new points revealed in this video.

  1. Labour is looking at offering both a weekly payment and a yearly lump sum depending on whether the women would like it.
  2. The implementation of the plan would begin as soon as Labour enters government.
  3. Labour has already talked to Whitehall civil servants so they can work up the scheme immediately Labour gets into office.
  4. Every woman will get a letter to prevent the previous debacle under successive governments where women did not hear of the offer
  5. He discloses he has talked to Michael Mansfield, the QC, who is drawing up the appeal for BackTo60 who are seeking full restitution to make sure it cannot be legally challenged.
  6. Labour ruled out means testing the offer because they found it would be complicated and expensive to do this and would delay payments. Bad luck economist Frances Coppola your idea wouldn’t work
  7. Yes it would mean Theresa May and Harriet Harman would get payments – but because it is taxable they will have to pay a big chunk back.
  8. Means testing would also break the principle that it is a national insurance based payment – based on entitlement not a benefit.
  9. He reveals the BBC had great difficulty understanding what the deal was about and why he had decided to pay it.
  10. Finally for tech lovers the end of the video he talks about introducing a national free broadband system – citing a small tech company in a rural area which devises new games – but can’t expand because of the poor quality broadband in its area. He points out this will be a boost for business.

On Byline Times: Labour ambush the Tories over 50swomen pensions:is it an election game changer?

Standing firm for full restitution for 50swomen

This article unlike my earlier one on the offer of compensation to 3.8 million 50swomen looks at the political moves that led Labour to make this offer which is not full restitution. It asks whether it is going to be a game changer in the 2019 General election? Read it in full on Byline Times here.

Labour’s new deal for 50swomen’s lost pensions: What does it mean?

Crowds of BackTo60 supporters after the judicial review hearing

Labour today broke through the political barrier of just offering tea and sympathy for 3.8 million women who had to wait up to six years for their pensions.

And coming only 24 hours after Boris Johnson announced that the Conservative Party would not give a penny in compensation to any of the women affected by this appalling scandal it is a major advance.

First the positives. It is a huge improvement on the offer available from the All Party Parliamentary Group on the issue co chaired by Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for Worthing East and Shoreham and Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea,East. The sums are obvious. Tim Loughton is on record of seeking £2 billion compensation, Labour is offering to spend £58 billion over five years.

From what I could gather – despite both MPs declining to answer any of my questions – it would have meant probably only £73 a week on benefit for women who have still not gained the pension in two years time and nothing for the rest, who form the vast majority of people involved.

It is also – and this is very important considering the age of people involved- to start pretty soon if Labour is elected. This compared with the previous APPG proposal with no firm date for implementation and the longer the delay, fewer people would have got anything.

As John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, said: ” “We will introduce it as rapidly as we probably can and we will try to ensure the payments are made promptly. …… we are hoping that people will appreciate the sense of injustice and anger that these women feel about the changes that were imposed upon them.”

And it is helpful for people who had relied on the now outdated married woman’s national insurance contribution to build up their pension entitlement since to get compensation Labour is treating all cases as though they paid the full national insurance stamp which would increase their entitlement.

It is also by far the best offer on the table for the December 12 election as it compares with nothing from the Conservatives and an offer from the Liberal Democrats to obtain compensation through the Ombudsman. Again that would depend when the Ombudsman considered the case and whether he decided to award any compensation.

Now the pitfalls. First it is paid at the rate of £100 a week over five years for all those born before 6 April 1955 rather than a lump sum. It is also taxed. As one of the arguments by the numerous detractors from the private pension industry -is that it should be means tested, very wealthy people will have to return, under Labour, half the payment to the state. Those who are really poor will get it tax free – because there is no tax next year on the first £12,500 of income. And this limit will probably rise over the period.

Second the scheme is complicated and the amount of compensation will be different for each individual.

Broadly it looks as though compensation will rise from a month’s loss of pension (£400) to a maximum of £31,379 for those born up to April 5 1955. It would then gradually fall again until disappearing altogether for those born after April 5 1960. The figure paid out will fall from £100 a week to a lower sum depending on a person’s date of birth from 6 April 1955.

In general terms this means that those born up to April 5 1955 will fare better than those after- though those born in the rest of 1955 will still get high compensation.

What this mean for those born earlier and have or about to get their pension that they will be guaranteed an extra £100 a week for up to five years depending on their birth date.

What the deal is not full restitution given that some women have lost up to £50,000. However Back to 60, have raised enough money through their crowdfunder, to continue their legal action and are seeking permission at the Court of Appeal to appeal the ruling.

The fact that BackTo60 went to the courts prompted Labour to prepare a much more generous offer for the 50swomen – their briefing makes it clear that this was in their mind.

” It’s a one-off historical redress for a historical wrong, so the state will be expected to find the money, just as it would do if the Government lost a court case.”

This is the opposite to the view of Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, who takes the position ” we act within the law” and the defeat means no money need ever be paid.

The fact that both Unison and Unite unions supported full restitution was also hugely influential in Labour’s thinking.

Labour’s manifesto has promised talks with all groups before it is implemented which will give all 50swomen representatives the chance to comment and discuss the implementation of the scheme.

Last night Waspi Ltd – which has not wanted full restitution – and ” We paid in, you pay out ” were advising their supporters to back Labour at the general election.

BackTo60 which never intended to advise its voters which way to vote – will produce a comparative guide to all the offers from the main parties to 50swomen and leave it to their supporters to draw their own conclusions on how they wish to cast their votes.

John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said
“We’ve prepared a scheme to compensate these women for a historical wrong. It’s one that they were not been able to prepare for and for which they’ve had to suffer serious financial consequences for as a result.

“Some of them have been hit by a combination of poverty and stress, having lost out on what they had contributed towards. These changes were imposed upon them by a Tory-led government. So we have a historical debt of honour to them and when go into government we are going to fulfil that debt.”

John McDonnell to announce Labour’s plans for WASPI women on Sunday – Shadow Cabinet minister’s leaked Facebook message

Andrew Gwynne’s message that suggests more to come

The Labour Party is to flesh out details on Sunday of how it will financially compensate some 3.8 million women many of whom are enduring enforced poverty after having to wait up to six years to get their basic state pension.

The party’s manifesto yesterday pledged full support for the women and promised talks if it wins the next general election to draw up a compensation package.

But it did not put any cash figure on what it would pay the women or make any provision in the Grey Book to fund it.

This is in sharp contrast to a pledge given to pensioners living overseas in places like Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and many Caribbean countries which is fully costed in the manifesto. It would come into force in April and could £500m spread over four years. This is a victory for the all party group that campaigned for the pensioners and will mean their pensions would get their first uprating for years. If Britain leaves the EU pensioners living there would also get a permanent uprating rather than just for three years under the Tories.

The failure to mention any money for the women last night provoked a furious reaction from the women with many tweeting their anger to John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor and others saying Jeremy Corbyn had lost their vote.

Andrew Gwynne Pic Credit: andrewgwynne.co.uk

However one woman challenged Andrew Gwynne, the party’s shadow communities secretary, warning that Labour’s manifesto announcement did not ” look good”.

Gwynne replied: ” Yes John McDonnell is making an announcement on Sunday about how we will honour the pledge on Page 75 of the manifesto to the 1950s women. the costings are separate to the grey book.”

I have since heard from sources that this is indeed the case but Labour are being tight lipped again about what they are going to announce.

John McDonnell; Shadow Chancellor Pic Credit: Channel 4 News

The full manifesto section reads:

Pensions

People work hard for most of their lives and deserve a decent retirement free of financial stress and insecurity.

Under the Tories, 400,000 pensioners have been pushed into poverty and a generation of women born in the 1950s have had their pension age changed without fair notification.

This betrayal left millions of women with no time to make alternative plans – with sometimes devastating personal consequences.

Labour recognises this injustice, and will work with these women to design a system of recompense for the losses and insecurity they have suffered.

We will ensure that such an injustice can never happen again by legislating to prevent accrued rights to the state pension from being changed.

The Conservatives have repeatedly raised the state pension age despite overseeing a decline in life expectancy. Labour will abandon the Tories’ plans.

All I can say is that John McDonnell better come up with something concrete rather than warm words or else they are going to be 3.8 million women voters who are going to be bitterly disappointed, judging from the tweets I have seen, and Labour could well lose many potential votes on December 12 – not only from them – but from their spouses and families.

Frankly I am bit puzzled why they are doing this and prolonging the suspense..

Book Review: The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves

Lord Mountbatten in naval uniform. Pic Credit: Allan Warren and Wikipedia

This is an extraordinary biography. It is a story of one of the leading figures in Royal circles, friend of Edward VIII and mentor to Prince Charles, whose life was cut short when he and some of his closest relatives were murdered by the IRA in 1979.

But it is no eulogy for a Royal figure whose Christian name lives on in the names of two of the Duke of Cambridge’s children. As Mountbatten himself once said ” No biography has any value unless it is written with warts and all.”

This biography written by historian Andrew Lownie is full of warts as well as some startling disclosures. It draws on previously unknown information – despite many previous biographies – and still does not present a complete picture because of decisions by the British government, the United States government and his own estate at Broadlands not to release all the documents relevant to his life.

What emerges is a complicated man who is full of hubris, self importance, a natural risk taker whose life was privileged, setting himself,apart from the rest of society with his retinue of household staff. He was also extraordinarily methodical.

It goes into detail of the love life of his wife, Edwina, a wealthy socialite, whose adventurous affairs took in Hollywood film stars and India’s first leader, Nehru when Lord Mountbatten was the last governor general of India. Until World War II she lived the life of a bored heiress making exotic trips to remote places before finding an amazing drive to help with the war effort organising and looking after the interests of the troops injured in action.

The book describes his loves which in their ” open marriage” and reveals that he was also bisexual after tracing one of his gay lovers. It also contains an extraordinary chapter entitled ” Rumours” which goes on to suggest that he may also have been a paedophile, It describes claims by a former boy , Richard Kerr who was in the notorious Kincora children’s home in Belfast , where it is proven that boys were subject to child sexual abuse, that MountBatten abused him.

Interestingly the Northern Ireland Office still hasn’t released all the documents about this home even though the events took place over 50 years ago.

The book is fascinating in its description of their wealthy life style – which might sound dated – but in fact due to the growing inequality in the UK could well be replicated today by some of the uber wealthy from Russian oligarchs, Hong Kong billionaires, tech billionaires rather than Royalty.

There are some extraordinary revelations particularly during his career in the Royal Navy. His hubris and risk taking, and a habit of not necessarily following orders, was responsible for a disaster early in World War II When he ignored orders to pick up 600 captured seamen and chase a German battleship with the result the seamen spent the war in internment camps.

The book to an extent exonerates him from the failed raid on Dieppe during the war but it shows that because of his connections to King George V and Churchill he would never be taken to task for his failures.

This hubris actually led to his assassination in 1979 when he ignored repeated advice from the security services and the Irish embassy not to go his country home in the Republic during August. They knew he was an IRA target.

The book contains a remarkable disclosure of how one young corporal, Graham Yuill, responsible for the Mountabatten’s security, spotted a car near his yacht Shadow 5 which was identified as a vehicle used by the IRA for gun running and carrying bombs. His report was ignored and not taken into account when the Garda took over security. The yacht was then blown up killing Mountbatten, his 83 year old mother, his daughter,Patricia and husband John; two 14 year old twins and a 15 year old friend.

The report has been subject to a 40 year old gagging order which was only lifted two years ago. This is just one remarkable disclosure in this fascinating book. Well worth a read.

The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves by Andrew Lownie. Bonnier Books. £20