Establishment won’t destabilise a Corbyn government says author of “A Very British Coup”

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Chris Mullin, author Pic credit: Twitter

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Chris Mullin, the former Labour minister and MP, last night told an audience of MPs and peers that he did not believe that the Establishment would seek to undermine a future Labour government  led by ” saintly” Jeremy Corbyn .

His  riposte came a month after Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, expressed worries that Corbyn had not ditched his left wing views, had met people who were not friends of Britain and said he was worried about him becoming PM. The charge has been made also by Sajid Javid, the home secretary who describes Jeremy Corbyn as ” a threat to our national security.”

Chris Mullin was giving a talk as part of John Bercow’s Speaker’s Lectures series  after the publication of his autobiography Hinterland, which describes his life as a war  journalist. Mp and minister and a chair of the influential home affairs committee.

He is most famous for his novel written in 1982 ” A Very British Coup” which became a BBC TV series describing how a left wing Labour MP with strong views on disarmament and an ally of the trade unions wins a general election with a landslide victory only to be undermined by the security services, the Establishment and the Murdoch Empire.

Although written some 33 years before the sudden rise of Jeremy Corbyn the novel is now seen as prescient of events that did change the direction of the Labour Party. At the time it was written Tony Benn not Jeremy Corbyn was seen as the great danger.

But despite the novel’s gloomy prognosis Mr Mullin does not see this happening should Jeremy Corbyn win the next election.

” I think MI5 has been cleaned up  in the last 30 years “, he said. He was not so certain about MI6 after the comments of Sir Richard Dearlove.

Mr Mullin himself was branded as part of the ” loony left ” by the right wing media particularly as he championed the cause of the  six Birmingham bombers who  were found guilty of blowing up two pubs killing 21 people and injuring 182 others but had their convictions quashed 16 years later. This was one of the greatest miscarriages of justice.

He disclosed that although he was on the left of the party he had not voted for him as party leader as he did not agree with all his policies. He described Jeremy as a ” saintly person” who  has always stood by his beliefs.

He also had a surprise for his audience. He is a writing a sequel  to A very British Coup which covers the current Brexit crisis. It is to be published on March 29 next year – the day Britain is due to leave the European Union.

 

 

MPs slam complacent equality watchdog and the government over “rife ” ageist discrimination

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The Equality Act: Government complacency is allowing rife discrimination in the workplace against the over 50s Pic credit: Parliament UK

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A damning report from the  Commons women and equalities committee has attacked the country’s equality watchdog and ministers for their complacent attitude in tackling age discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere.

The report released by the all party committee of MPs warns that the talents of up to one million women over the age of 50 are being wasted by outdated employment policies. Its strongly worded condemnation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and ministers responsible for equality follows what can only be described as a pretty lack lustre response from both.

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said:

“Without effective intervention from the Government and EHRC, we cannot see how discriminatory practices against older people in employment, that we know are rife, will be tackled. That’s why I find the responses we have received today disappointing as we had hoped they would have worked together to agree specific enforcement actions across both the public and private sectors.

Our Committee will be taking follow up action to make sure we get the change that is desperately needed.”

The response from MPs highlights what they see as a failure to implement the  2010 Equality Act. They are particularly scathing of the failure by the EHRC which has powers – which appear to be rarely used – to use enforcement procedures  against employers who have ageist recruitment policies.

The lack of the use of its powers is worrying given that campaigners for 50s women who are waiting up to six years to get a pension also want the EHRC to use its powers to remedy what they see as discrimination against this group. This group who are being forced to look for work until they are 65 – are facing a double bind of  finding employers don’t want them while the state won’t give them a pension.

They have even had the facetious suggestion from Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, that they take jobs as apprenticeships at £3.60 an hour while they wait until they get a  pension.

The EHRC today said it would take action – even though this seems to be confined to fine words rather than deeds.

A spokeswoman  said: ““Everyone has the right to work and the right to a working environment that allows them to achieve their full potential. We have taken and will continue to take robust enforcement action, using all of our statutory powers, to tackle unlawful discrimination and ensure that no one is excluded from the workplace. This includes enabling Britain’s employers to benefit from the talent and contributions of workers of all ages.

“The right to request flexible working should apply from day one in all jobs and we have stressed the need for employers to make their workplaces accessible for everyone, including older people, parents and carers. We have also sought to tackle bias in recruitment by taking action against discriminatory adverts that request characteristics or terms that are associated with a particular age group.”
MPs are particularly angry that the government will not enact section 14 of the Equality Act – which would allow people to bring multiple ground cases against employers who discriminate against them. Thus an older woman could not bring a case on both age and sex – she has to choose one or the other.

Both former women’s minister Harriet Harman and the Fawcett Society have condemned ministers for not doing this. The government says it won’t do it because it increases burdens on business and promises more research in its response. One has to ask as this legislation was passed by Parliament – there must have been some research already behind it – so this is a pretty lame excuse.

The government uses the same excuse of putting too much a burden on employers to make it mandatory for firms employing over 250 people to publish an age breakdown of staff. Yet Whitehall already does it.

Altogether this is a pretty pathetic response from both the government and the watchdog to a serious issue. But I am very glad that the committee is also very dissatisfied and intends to pursue both organisations to come up with something better. You can get the full report here.

The day the women fighting for their pensions brought Westminster to a standstill

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50s women reclaiming the street outside Parliament

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A decade ago this would have made headline news. Hundreds of  50s women deprived of their pensions until they reach 65 or 66 blocked the road in Parliament Square for over an hour yesterday. The police – just five of them – had to divert traffic away from Parliament as they sang slogans deriding Theresa May  from ” We paid In,  U Pay Out ” to ”  Hey, Hey, Theresa May, Theresa May, how many women who have you robbed today ” in an extraordinary display of anger at successive governments decisions to raise the women’s pension age from 60 to 66.

The noise  from the vibrant  demo drowned out irritated van drivers, bus drivers and motorists tooting their horns as they were stuck on the one way system round the Square. But the women were more than a match for the motorists, the police and certainly are making an impact on MPs.

The decision to block the road was not planned  and taken spontaneously by some of the protesters and led to a traffic jams right up Whitehall. Even Fiona Bruce, the BBC newscaster had to flag down a passing police car to get to Millbank to present the six o’clock news.

The protest  began with a 1000 strong rally in Hyde Park bringing together Backto60, Waspi and the ” We Paid In, U Pay Out” groups under a #One Voice and ” shoulder to Shoulder ” banner. Groups from as far away as Aberdeen, Cornwall, Wales, Tyne and Wear and Derby came to London to voice their anger.

It has got the backing of the Fawcett Society, the Women’s Equality Party and the SOS Initiatives  who have highlighted the desperate plight of the women , some of whom have contemplated suicide or self harm.

What was  clear at Westminster is that it is attracting support from senior people in the leadership of both the Labour Party and the Scottish Nationalist Party, the two biggest opposition groups in Westminster. John McDonnell’s office sent over a senior researcher and unless I was mistaken, Laura Alvarez, wife of Jeremy Corbyn, who keeps a low profile but I would bet will be telling the Labour leader about the strength of feeling there.

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Chris Williamson examines the Derby Waspi banner

Other Labour MPs there included Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for  Derby North;Laura Smith, shadow Cabinet Office minister and MP for Crewe and Nantwich; Battersea MP Marsha de Cordova; and a number from Scotland and the Midlands. Two prominent Scottish Nationalists, the Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Mhairi Black also pledged support. Tory MPs were noticeable by their absence.

What is clear is this issue which I fully support – I did address the rally myself on the key issues- is now going places. This weekend it made the mainstream media, the next stage must be inside the courts and Parliament itself.

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The protesters arrive at Westminster 

 

Conservatives v Corbyn: How the Tory party’s policy vacuum has left them floundering among the under 45s

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George Freeman, MP – man behind revitalising Tory policies. Pic credit: Wikipedia

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Beyond the  media hype of the Brexit battle between Boris and Theresa May this year’s Conservative Party conference was a heart searching  and navel gazing spectacle.

Clearly still rattled by the result of 2017 election where Theresa May lost them their overall majority – by far the biggest topic on the fringe was how can they woo back droves of people under 45 who have deserted them for Labour.

Unusually for a party in power  there were strident calls to develop new policies to win back these lost voters. Usually parties in government can take the initiative as they have the reins of power  and can produce plenty of fresh ideas.

But the Tories at this conference were behaving like a party in opposition – a huge navel gazing exercise in a desperate search for new policies. Tory MP Chris Skidmore, policy vice chairman of the party, virtually gave the game away at a reception for the Conservative Policy Forum – when he alluded to the great revival of ideas by  Sir Keith Joseph, which propelled Margaret Thatcher into Downing Street.  But that was the 1970s when the party had lost power after Edward Heath’s disastrous performance.

David Cameron also tried to soften the image of the party – again the new ideas came when the party was in opposition in 2008.

So what are they trying to do? One of the more illuminating debates came at the  Centre for Policy Studies fringe with the intriguing title, Today’s Millenials, Tomorrow’s Conservatives?

Chaired by Times columnist, Rachel Sylvester,it was platform for two potential rising stars, Sam Gyimah, the universities minister and a late replacement, Guy Opperman, the pensions minister.

The two were remarkably honest about the dilemma.  Sam Gyimah admitted they were used to 18-21 year olds being left wing radicals but not the 25 to 45 year old age group. whom would be in work and bringing up families.

He blamed the continual war within the Tory party over Brexit as putting off young voters.

Guy Opperman admitted that they would not win by negative campaigning against Corbyn ”  We won’t win  by portraying Corbyn  as an insane  antisemitic Hamas supporting, Cuba loving, terrorist” he said.

That message did not seem to have reached the Tory party platform where Sajid Javid  , the home secretary, warned of the security risk of having Corbyn as Prime minister and May devoted part of her speech to denouncing Corbyn over antisemitism, supporting Russia, decrying Nato and appearing on Press TV.

What did they want. Well, without a real trace of irony, it was the need for momentum without the capital M.

Energy, drive, policies that were inclusive, equal pay for women, responsible capitalism, support for the NHS and more and more housing. In olden times, it would be called progressive conservatism. Guy Opperman as pensions minister, was asked by one member of the audience whether to remove parts of the triple lock on pensions to assuage the plight of the young. He was remarkably silent on this saying he did not want to make manifesto commitments at this time. Pressed afterwards he said he liked to get away from always talking about pensions.

But what was missing was any big idea on how to tackle the issues that Labour was pushing – the failure of private firms running the railways, over crowded classrooms, police and prison service  in crisis,giving workers a bigger stake in private companies. They will have to offer real alternatives to wean voters away from Labour. Their only big point was that Corbyn hadn’t the money to do anything about it without ruinous taxation and borrowing.

It is all predicated on Britain entering the sunny uplands once we have left the EU and can plan for a post Brexit society. If Brexit turns into chaos it will further alienate that target age group.

Labour should not be complacent about the dilemma the Tories face. At the Conservative Policy  Forum reception there was a strong rallying cry for people to set up constituency wide policy groups to try and draw up more attractive policies and to reach out to non Conservatives – I expect aimed at that 25-45 year age group – to participate.

Just before I left I had a word with  George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, one of the most active MPs seeking new Tory policies to appeal to the younger voter. Surprised to find that a hack had sneaked into the reception to hear about their plans, he jested I was only there for the drink. More seriously he asked:

” Why don’t you join  the Conservative forum and help us devise new policies?”

I politely declined, made my excuses and left.

 

Why these liars, cheats and fraudsters should be prosecuted for ripping off taxpayers and cheating London’s firefighters

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John Shannon , former chief executive of Assetco. now exposed as a liar and fraudster, banned for 16 years from practising as an accountant and ordered to pay £550,00 in fines and costs

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This month one of the most devastating reports into a privatisation rip off was published by the Financial Reporting Council, which regulates chartered accountants. It involves a saga much reported on this blog, the failed privatisation of London and Lincoln’s  fire engines, handed over to what are now revealed to be liars and fraudsters who ran Assetco at the time.

The three top directors, chief executive, John Shannon; chief financial officer, Frank Flynn; and group financial controller, Matt Boyle, could not even be bothered to attend a tribunal hearing to defend themselves against 27 allegations of misconduct. Shannon and Boyle are thought to be somewhere in South East Asia Flynn is in Northern Ireland

Between them they lied and hid millions of pounds ripped off from income paid by London fire brigade – the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority – through a string of Northern Ireland companies and a consultancy to Abu Dhabi and falsified invoices from the London authority to boost the income of Assetco  duping shareholders so  they could live on the hog with large salaries.

The worst culprit was John Shannon  who has been banned as practising as a chartered accountant  for 16 years – a new British record – fined £250,000 and ordered to pay £300,000 in costs. This was the same man who wined and dined the now disgraced former Tory chair of the London fire authority, Brian Coleman, while simultaneously ripping off the authority for personal gain.

His story included in a damning  FRC report  is a trail of dishonesty and improper financial gain for himself and his family, His first act  in 2008 was to take £1.5 million out of Assetco, ostensibly to invest in a Northern Ireland property company, Jaras Property Development. In fact the report found  the money was transferred almost immediately from the company to Mr Shannon’s personal bank account to pay off a loan.

To compound his action when Assetco’s accounts were prepared for 2010 he created a false invoice and lied about the use of the money to fellow directors and the auditors, Grant Thornton.

The second dishonest act involved Assetco’s take over of Graphic, a company that provided lettering for vehicles, in 2010. Mr Shannon claimed he was owed £685,000 by the company. No documentation was ever found to prove the debt but the money taken from Assetco was the exact same money owed by this son, Joel, to clear a debt with another business he was running. The report concludes this was a sham.

He then moved to fiddle the accounts of another Assetco business, Assetco Abu Dhabi, which was launched with a  £15m share issue. Included in the costs was a management fee to a firm called XYZ2 for £900,000. In fact there were no management services provided by this company, instead the money was used to pay off  interest owed.

Earlier Mr Shannon and his fellow directors Frank Flynn and Matt Boyle inflated the goodwill value of three other companies,UV Modular Limited (“UVM”), The Vehicle Application Centre Limited (“TVAC”) and Simentra Limited (“Simentra”). All three had been bought by Assetco and had huge operating losses, all became insolvent, yet between them they were valued at over £15m.

UVM which built ambulances and mobility vehicles for the NHS was ” in a parlous financial condition ” and collapsed. It got contracts from the NHS by offering cheap deals which meant it lost money.

TVAC built chassis and fire appliances was acquired in 2007 and went bust in 2008 and was an operational disaster. But it was obviously intended to service fire engines for London.

Simentra had just three staff and was supposed to provide management advice for emergency services.

The report found Mr Shannon was well aware of this yet  allowed the £15m for goodwill to be included as an asset in the company’s accounts.

Mr Shannon, Mr Flynn and Mr Boyle also inflated income from the London fire authority on purchasing equipment and  providing emergency crew training. All this led to inflated accounts which Mr Shannon claimed he had not seen but the report found that he had lied to them about his knowledge of what was agreed to be published in the accounts. There is an earlier report on my blog here.

The conclusions against Mr Shannon are stark :” While there have been no actual convictions, certain of the activities contained within the allegations could be characterised as causing or facilitating fraud. The Jaras and Graphic Allegations amount to fraud on AssetCo by Mr Shannon. The XYZ Investment was also a fraud.”

The report also says the level of dishonesty even put the fire fighters  work at risk. It is as well that Assetco  operations in London and Lincolnshre went bust before the tragic Grenfell fire or their services would have only compounded the problems.

Most of the misconduct by Flynn and Boyle was to assist in covering up rather than exposing the dishonesty of Shannon.

Raymond “Frank” Flynn (former Chief Financial Officer) for  banned from practising for 14 years and Matthew Boyle (former Financial Controller) for 12 years. Additionally, £150,000 and £100,000 respectively have been imposed and they share paying  part of the £400,000 costs bill.

The Financial Reporting Council has a memorandum of understanding with the Serious Fraud Office which could launch a criminal investigation.

The SFO told me that they were aware of the case but could neither confirm nor deny whether they would take action. In my view they should pursue these people – even if they have left the country- with the aim of securing convictions so they can spend some time in British jails.

 

 

 

 

A No Deal Brexit could leave nearly 500,000 expatriate Brits with frozen pensions like those living in Canada and Australia

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Last year  it looked like the 474,000 expatriates who retired to 27 European  Union countries had their pension increases protected forever and a day. A deal which meant the UK would sign up to the EU Social Security Convention  guaranteeing pension payments both to British expatriates abroad and EU citizens remaining in the UK.

There was only one caveat “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” which would prevent this happening and  the  government’s aim is the commitment would be reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. This was emphasised in the White Paper on Brexit in July.

But now the spectre of a No Deal Brexit is again being raised everything is being thrown into the air. Supporters like Liam Fox talk of a country thriving on new free trade but what about the social cost? What is clear is that without a signed withdrawal treaty Britain appears to fall out of the social security convention – and as EU arrangements superseded most national arrangements the automatic rise in pensions goes as well.

The House of Commons library have just produced two new reports on the issue. One published in July on Brexit and state pensions provides an accurate summary of the present situation. You can download it here. Another published this week provides the latest analysis of frozen pensions overseas. You can get it here.

There is a current official breakdown of the situation for both  unfrozen pensions in EU countries and the Channel Islands and frozen pensions elsewhere at the end of this blog.It shows that EU  countries make up the vast majority of uprated pensions.

The government has only limited agreements with overseas countries to allow Brits who settle there to get uprated pensions. Outside the EU  the UK has agreements with Barbados; Bermuda; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Croatia; Guernsey; Isle of Man; Israel; Jamaica; Jersey; Mauritius; Montenegro; the Philippines; Serbia; Turkey; the United States of America; and, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The rest of Europe includes Switzerland and Norway. The US agreement also covers American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

For those who could be confined to a frozen pension the results can be dire. And they get worse the longer you live. An expatriate living to the age of 90 in Canada would have to live on just £41.15 a week while someone who went to live in Canada in 2015 would be on just over £110.15 a week.

Ian Andexser, chairman of the Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners, said:

“The UK continue to adopt a 70 year old policy which makes no sense, is unfair and in violation of the Commonwealth charter. If you are British and live in Niagara Falls USA, you get a fully indexed pension. If you live 400 yards away in Niagara Falls , Canada, you do not!”

An even more complex situation exists in Australia where they have a means tested pension and even getting Britain to pay up part of your state pension if you have already left the country is problematic.

The latest Commons guide on frozen pensions shows campaigners – once they have lost their case for any uprating – are unlikely to get it back. Successive British governments have refused to change the rules on grounds of costs and the spurious claim that the rises caused by  British inflation rates should not apply to other countries which had different rates of inflation. If that were the case the same would apply to people living in the European Union or Mauritius where people do benefit from British inflation.

The cost to do this is about £500 million a year and opposition parties – notably the Liberal Democrats – have backed the change only to renege on it once they got into office. Indeed the only change that followed the Pensions Act that  created the new pensions system was a minute extension of the uprating to pensioners who had retired to Sark in the Channel Islands.

So Brits in the EU better keep abreast of what does happen in the EU negotiations. They need to ensure that there is an agreement with the EU. The expatriates in Australia, Canada, South Africa and Jamaica, to name   few of the frozen pension  states can only  get redress by either pressurising British politicians or by pressuring their newly adopted country to demand Britain fulfils its obligations by refusing to sign a trade deal until it does.

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Judicial Review of government’s handling of 50s women pension changes lodged at High Court

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Royal Courts of Justice – venue for handing in the papers for a judicial review for the 50s women

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Back to 60, the campaigning group  who are supported by 738,000 of the 3.9 million 50s women waiting up to six years to get their pensions, lodged a claim  at the High Court against the  Department for Work and Pensions yesterday.

This is the first stage of taking real action to put right the injustice suffered by the women ever since the government embarked on a policy of continually raising the pension age.  It will be followed by a High Court hearing where a judge will be asked to allow the review to go ahead. It is bound to be challenged by the government which is determined not to pay up but ministers will have to justify their actions.

Backto60 lodged the documents with only 48 hours to spare as the courts  start their  summer recess tomorrow and  the courts will not hear cases  until  after October 1.

The move is the culmination of action taken by the group which now involves support  on the issue from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intends to raise the issue at the United Nations, the Fawcett Society and  other ampaigners.

A legal statement from Binberg Peirce & Michael Mansfield QC reads:

“The basis of the legal challenge is that the pension policy implemented by successive governments in respect of women of a particular age group (those born in the 1950s) constitutes a gross injustice and is discriminatory.  The impact on the economic, social and mental well being of these women, who rightly enjoyed a perfectly legitimate expectation of satisfactory provision in retirement, has been devastating.

“The extent of individual distress and hardship is only now becoming evident through real stories of women around the UK. It is deeply ironic that all of this is done in the name of equalisation and equality, when the very means employed to achieve this are themselves discriminatory.

“It is intended that the current pension policy be subjected to both public and judicial scrutiny and, therefore, steps are now being taken towards mounting a judicial challenge.”

At the same time Stephen Lloyd, Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne, whose coalition government made matters worse for 50s women by backing an acceleration of the rise in pension ages, has finally got a meeting on behalf of Waspi with the Ombudsman to discuss whether there was maladministration in not informing women.

His comment is picked up by Frances Martin:

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The government is going to face challenges from all sides this autumn.