The surreal 2019 local election results

Conservatives lose, Labour disappoint, Lib Dems revive and Greens grow

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The 2019 local elections were one of the most surreal in recent times. For a start two of the newest party groups, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and the breakaway group, ChangeUK, were too late to field any candidates. So they didn’t reflect the range of political alternatives on offer.

The voting results Pic credit: BBC

They took place against a background of massive disillusion with politicians and country bitterly divided between Remain and Brexit.

The comparison with 2015 – the last time the seats were fought- was not equally valid as the 2015 elections were on the same day as a general election when more people turn out to vote.

England scoreboard

PARTYCOUNCILLORSCHANGE +/-
Conservative3564-1330
Labour2021-84
Liberal Democrat1352+705
Green265+194
UKIP31-145
Others1177+660

So it was not surprising that the two major parties suffered and there was a rise in the number of Independents elected reversing a trend for decades.

However contrary to some of the reporting disillusionment did not fall equally on the Tories and Labour. The Tories lost out massively , Labour did not.


The Conservative party lost 1,330 seats and lost control of 45 councils. They now have control of 93 councils. Labour gained some councils but finished with an overall loss of six councils ending up controlling 60.

The Lib Dems managed net gains of 11 councils – leaving them in control of 18. The Greens did not win any council but are now a presence in both rural and urban areas.

When you get down to the detail you find Labour’s performance reflects a trend that was going on last year. The party is finding it is losing ground in some traditional working class areas where they have dominated for decades but still gaining ground in the most unlikely of places, particularly in the South.

The must dramatic losses were in Sunderland ( 10 seats), Bolsover (14) and North East Derbyshire ( 17), Redcar and Cleveland ( 13) all traditional working class areas. They also were driven back in Derby where the Tories are now the largest party and lost five seats in South Tyneside. Labour lost to a landslide of Independents in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire and now only have two councillors left. Labour disappeared completely in Dacorum ( Hemel Hemsptead) where they have been declining for years. In Stoke on Trent where Labour launched its local election campaign it lost five seats and the Tories gained eight. They also lost control of Bolton, Darlington , Stockton, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.

Now the council leader of Sunderland Graeme Miller blamed the loss of Labour seats on a ” massive protest ” over the party’s attitude to Brexit by agreeing there could be a second referendum. This may have been partly true – as other big losses were in Leave areas – but in Sunderland voters seem to be saying ” Anybody but Labour” by voting in UKIP, Liberal Democrat , Conservative and Green councillors.

Now if this was repeated all over the country it would have been a very bad night for Labour. But it wasn’t. Labour gained seats to take control of Trafford, High Peak and Gravesham in Kent. They also remarkably took over Witney town council winning 15 of 17 seats on David Cameron’s doorstep.

And again like last year they won seats in areas where Labour hasn’t existed for years. This included one seat on South Norfolk council, one seat on Lyme Regis town council, 16 gains in Thanet – last time a UKIP stronghold, six in Folkestone and Hythe, where they hadn’t been represented, and they doubled their councillors in Worthing from five to ten. They also won 3 seats on Lewes council in East Sussex where they have not been represented for a decade.More surprisingly they took two seats in Surrey on Waverley council – both in Godalming, bringing back into politics the former Labour MP for Broxtowe, Nick Palmer. The rout in Waverley which covers true blue Farnham and Haslemere saw a 49 seat Tory majority collapse with 30 Tory councillors losing their seats ( Lib Dems gained 13, Greens two, and Farnham Residents, an independent group ended up with 14 councillors.

The Liberal Democrats did well with landslide results in Chelmsford, North Norfolk, Bath and North East Somerset, Vale of the White Horse, Hinckley & Bosworth, Winchester, Cotswolds, North Devon, Mole Valley, North Devon, Somerset West & Taunton and Teignbridge. Without doubt at a local level they have shrugged off their appalling performances after the coalition government but it is not entirely clear that in every area it will mean a rejection of Brexit. The Greens also now have a presence on many councils by winning seats in both rural and urban areas and strengthening their position in Lewes, Brighton and Norwich.

The Conservative losses are so numerous that it is impossible to list all the 45 councils they no longer control. But there was a devastating trail across Kent and Surrey and serious losses in the West country. Among the biggest losses were Waverley (30), Guildford ( 22) Bath and North East Somerset ( 25) ,Chelmsford (31) , Swale (16) North Norfolk (19) and Kings Lynn (16).

What does all mean? It is too facile to see this as a Brexit v Remain result particularly as they have been a substantial rise in Independents. These are by no means all Tories in disguise. On one level it is the reverse of the 2017 general election which saw the two main parties dominate. Now they are in the back foot in some of their strongholds – whether it be the North East or parts of the Midlands for Labour or the South East, West country and parts of East Anglia for the Tories.

Labour is still advancing the South East and has strengthened its position in Manchester. The Lib Dems are back with a vengeance in former strongholds.What will happen next with the European elections and the Peterborough by-election may also not be a true guide.

We live in surreal times and these were surreal local elections.

Samoa: Boris’s Treasure Island for post Brexit Britain?

The lush tropical island of Samoa in the South Pacific is famous as the last resting place of Robert Louis Stevenson author of Treasure Island.His villa is now a museum and a major tourist attraction set in the hills above Apia, the nation’s capital.

Stevenson is buried at the top of a nearby mountain and reached by a hike through tropical rainforest. There is even an environmental project to preserve the forest in that area.

It was at Stevenson’s villa that five months ago that Laura Clarke the British High Commissioner to Samoa chose to launch a new initiative aimed to boost Britain’s place in the world post Brexit. Here for one day the Union Jack flew from the building while the high commissioner waxed lyrically about how similar the UK was do this tropical paradise. You can read all about it in a FO press release here.

Samoa it turns out is one of nine countries that Britain is keen to strengthen its presence as part of a Foreign Office initiative to compensate for losing its influence in the European Union. The argument goes along the lines that for every small country that Britain supports is likely to back Britain at the United Nations as each country has one vote. That way Britain can keep playing a major role without relying on the EU.The initiative goes back to Boris Johnson’s time as foreign secretary.It is being repeated in Tonga and Vanuatu.

The policy could be expensive and the competition could be fierce. In Samoa it will mean building a high commission to compete with the ones already in the capital representing Australia,New Zealand and Japan. In both Samoa and Tonga the main competition comes from China which is aiding Samoa’s education system and operates behind a high security compound in Tonga. The Japanese and Koreans are funding a new bridge in Apia. And both islands have strong links with Australia and New Zealand.

Exactly what new business opportunities Britain will get from Samoa and Tonga is not clear. Neither country relies entirely on tourism but most of their exports are agriculture and both have tiny populations ( they have less than 300,000 between them) and are no substitute for any EU country. Britain could benefit from coconut oil and cream from Samoa. Tonga could send us frozen fish,squash and vanilla beans.

As a visitor to both countries, Samoa is stunningly beautiful and friendly and Tonga is similar. Both have a very strong Christian religious communities dating from the missionaries and still observe Sundays as a day of rest.

In Samoa family is very important and unusually there are few cementaries as nearly all Samoans bury their ancestors on their own land. As well having their own homes they build meeting halls for family events.

Surprisingly for such a beautiful place it is not overdeveloped. There are no huge tower block hotels like Honolulu dominating the coast.Instead it remains rather a remarkable tropical paradise that even Robert Louis Stevenson might still recognise.

Permission granted: 50s Women win historic case to judicial review on pension rights

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50s women dancing in front of the Royal Court of Justice after the judge granted their request for a judicial review

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A High Court judge  yesterday gave the Back To 60 campaign permission to bring a judicial review against the Department for Work and Pensions over the raising of the pension age  for 3.8 million women born in the 1950s.

The Hon Ms Justice Lang – who is also known as Dame Beverley Ann Macnaughton Lang – ruled in favour of all the issues raised by barristers Catherine Rayner and Michael Mansfield on behalf of the women.

The ruling by the 63 year old judge obviously stunned the Department of Work and Pensions whose barrister, Julian Milford, asked for  66 days ( instead of the normal 14 days)  to prepare a fresh case against Back To 60. They were granted 42 days.

The  ruling means that a future  hearing BackTo60 have the right to argue their case that the government’s decision which affected the 3.8 million  women was both  a matter of  gender and age discrimination. In addition they can argue that the total failure of successive governments to review the arrangements to look at the hardship faced by many of the people made  matters worse.

As is stated on the lawyer chambers site:

” the taper mechanism used to raise the date on which women receive state pension, in combination with a failure to properly inform women of the changes was unlawful because it discriminates on grounds of sex, age and sex combined and age.”

Catherine Rayner told the judge that there had been no fewer than 60 changes to the date  when a 50s woman could get a pension  and that the main driving force for the government was to save money. She said the equivalent of £5.3billion had been taken from this group of women. She described it as an ” historic inequality ” which was made worse by the lack of knowledge among the women themselves  because the government never informed them directly about the changes.

Julian Milford for the DWP, admitted that this was part of a cost saving for the government but also said it was about equalising the pension age between men and women.

He argued that there should be no judicial review of this because it was about primary legislation which had been widely debated in Parliament in 1995 and it was far too late to call it into question.

He also argued that a ruling by the European Court  of Human Rights which meant that pensioners who had retired to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were not entitled to uprated pensions meant that the women had no case to ask for a judicial review about changing their pensions.

Both these points were rejected by the judge who said that even though the act was passed 23 years ago the fact that its impact was causing problems for the women now meant  the review could go ahead.

The government also revealed that the private pensions industry is  uneasy about the women winning their case because it could force them to pay out occupational pensions five years earlier to some women – if their contract with companies meant it was payable on the day they could collect their state pension.

As the 7BR website says:

“The hearing will allow a detailed examination of complaints made by made by women born in the 1950s, and championed by groups such as #backto60 and WASPIE, as well as their political representatives. The case raises legal questions about sex and age discrimination in the mechanisms chosen by government to implement a policy; the responsibility of Government to inform people of significant changes to State Pension entitlement and of the applicability of the EU directive on Equal Treatment in Social Security provision.”

My view is that it has significant implications for Westminster and Whitehall.

It means that a judge has quashed the views expressed by financial commentators  like  Frances Coppola and other people connected to the private pensions  and banking industry that there was no chance of a judicial review. It has also called into question the arguments they used over primary legislation and the  ECHR court ruling.

It will add to pressure on the Labour Party leadership to promise to do something for these women whose cause is championed  by Laura Alvarez, the partner of Jeremy Corbyn, and whose shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is well aware of the issue, and predicted the women would win a review.

It will put enormous pressure on Amber Rudd, the new works and pensions secretary, who is already having to cope with the backlash over the mess caused by universal credit and will now have to seriously address the plight of the 50s women. It is also a  blow to the reputation of Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, who all but nearly misled Parliament by telling them that the judicial review had already been rejected.

And I am afraid the All Party Group on State Pension Inequality for Women in Westminster will have to buck their ideas up and come behind this review rather than seeking small sums of compensation for the affected women.  By taking this radical stand  and going for the jugular BackTo60 have shown the way. They have not won yet but they have got much farther than anybody thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Last of the Summer Time: The next new EU row for Theresa May

Theresa May about not to enjoy a row over summer time Pic Credit: Articular/ Freepik

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As the UK and the EU come to a deal on the withdrawal of the country from the EU the practicalities of the arrangement are about to rebound on Theresa May.

The European Commission  are planning  a new directive that will affect everyone in the UK and Ireland and from March 29 when the UK ceases to be an EU ” rule maker” and becomes a ” rule taker” it can do nothing about it.

The EU want to change our time. They want to standardise time across all countries by abolishing the move in the UK from Greenwich mean time to summer time – keeping the same hours for the whole year. While the EU will still respect different time zones – Brussels is normally one hour ahead of the UK – it no longer wants any difference  between summer and winter time. The UK could decide to adopt permanent summer time but this has proved unpopular in the past.

And one of the byproducts of this is that Ireland could have two time zones if Britain doesn’t agree -a sort of new ” time border” that because of the complexities will mean some farms that straddle the border will be working in two time zones.

Not surprisingly the UK does not want this. But with all the excitement about  the enormity  of Brexit we are not going about making our views known very well.

The future of this massive change – which would mean darker evenings and  lighter mornings – has been left to the most junior of ministers, Kelly Tolhurst, the MP for Rochester and Stroud and a Parliamentary under-secretary at the Department of Business. She has only been an MP for three years and a minister for just six months.

And the only discussion about this in Parliament has taken place at an obscure committee meeting a week or so ago where she did not particularly distinguish herself.Parliament has passed a resolution without debate in the chamber objecting to the move – but who in the EU will think they have to take much notice.

It has arisen because since 1980 the EU has had some  competency to  regularise time to help business and now wants to extend its role to end the ritual of clocks going forward and backward across the EU.

The pressure has come from the Germans, the French and the Austrians who, according to a survey, are fed up with changing the clocks twice a year.  The UK, it emerged, had objected at a meeting in Graz in Austria and has so far got the support of Greece and Portugal.

But time, no pun intended here, is running out. A decision will be taken in March and implemented later next year during the transition period when the UK has to accept all new EU rules.

Worse though was the reaction from the minister to telling the people of the UK about what is under discussion.

She came under repeated questioning from MPs, notably Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, and Michael Tomlinson, Conservative MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole, to launch a consultation about the changes. But she refused to do it.

” Currently we do not intend carry out a consultation. We are working with other member states to block the proposal. Obviously, we will respect the implementation of EU rules while we are still a member but at this moment in time we do not want to consult because we are fundamentally against the proposed clock changes.”

This extraordinary position was even worse for Northern Ireland which could find itself in a different time zone to the Republic because Stormont is suspended she is not even proposing any guidance.

Instead she insisted that the UK  would be successful in blocking it – ignoring the fact that after March 29 the UK won’t be in a position to do so.

Patrick Grady, SNP MP for Glasgow North, pit it succinctly: ” Once we leave the European Union—if the United Kingdom finally leaves—there will be nothing to stop there being different time zones across the island of Ireland, because the United Kingdom will no longer be in a position to have the kind of influence that the Minister has been speaking about, to work with other member states to come to an agreement that this is not necessary. Once we are out, we will have no say in those discussions whatsoever. ”

So I predict a  perfect storm after we leave. The only way we can stop it – if you are a Brexiteer is to press for a ” no deal” situation. The only other way to stop it is if you are a Remainer is to stay in the EU and demand a derogation from the decision which is perfectly possible.

The one way to be forced to do this is Theresa May’s present solution  which leaves UK as a ” rule taker” rather than a ” rule maker”. This I suspect will be the first of many issues that will cause massive problems. And changing our time affects everybody in the UK. For those who want the full details of the debate here’s the video of the European Committee meeting on November 12 that discussed it, courtesy of parliamentlive.tv

Exclusive: Amber Rudd faces new challenge over maladministration of the raising of pension age from 50s Women

amber rudd

Amber Rudd- the new work and pensions secretary and MP for Hastings

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Two supporters of the BackTo60 campaign have got professional legal support to challenge the government for maladministration over the failure to notify them over the raising of the pension age.

The fresh challenge is in addition to the hearing next Friday at the High court to decide whether BackTo60 can challenge the government through a judicial review.

Pensions Litigation lawyer Mr Ivan Walker (Principal of Walkers Solicitors based in Kent) has agreed to advise Fran Martin and Ros Pain-Tolin  who, are two of the lead cases of 1950s Women. They have got to the final stage of presenting their case to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Mr Walker recently represented the members of the Lloyds Bank pension schemes in a landmark High Court claim regarding sex discrimination in the system for contracting out of the State Earnings-related Pension Scheme.

The move is significant because professional legal advice is essential in bringing such a  case. The women are launching a crowd funding appeal  to help finance the move.

The link is here. Go onto the crowdfunder site here:

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/search/projects?filter%5Bc%5D=&filter%5Bt%5D=pending&filter%5Bs%5D=

Search live projects and put in 50swomen and then you will get to the site. For some reason this direct link does not work

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/maladministration–legal-advice-for-1950swomen

Both women have faced enormous and heart rending struggles to cope since the government pushed back the right to claim a pension from 60 to 65 and it is going up to 66 by 2020. Their struggle is typical of many others who have commented on this blog and have been left with virtually nothing to live on.

Fran Martin told me :

“I received a letter in 2013 from DWP – which indicated that I had a 6 yr hike added to my SP age – This was received 2 years before my 60th birthday in 2015. I was totally shocked and still am.

“I have gone from an optimistic cheerful forward thinking person to a virtual recluse with all the incumbent stresses and strains that this places on other family members. Health has deteriorated too, with high blood pressure, diabetes and anxiety being I feel part and parcel of the result of being misled at what is a vulnerable time in anyone’s life..”

Sleepless nights have become the new norm and even whilst now prescribed sleeping tablets I can still be wide awake at 4 or 5am with worry for a very bleak future if even that exists, I’m not convinced it does.”

She became redundant in 2015 and then saw her plans for a happy retirement ruined.

” I had purchased a retirement cottage in 2008 in Aberdeenshire completely unaware of any state pension Legislation. and which DWP treated as capital – Forced in Dec 2015 to put the cottage up for sale – but with no work and no one coming into Aberdeen to rent, to date the cottage is still on the market. and have costs for the upkeep of same and the flat that I live in Aberdeen.

” I am ineligible for any benefits as the DWP class the cottage as capital. I was also forced to draw down a small private pension in 2015 at the worst possible times for annuities, and use this and small savings to eek out a bleak existence – Dependant to on a mother in her mid 80’s which quite frankly I never thought I would have to be and obviously places stress and worry on her too.”

Ros told me: “I always expected my State Pension to be at 60 in 2015. I never received a letter. ICE  ( who handle pension complaints)say that one was ‘probably’ sent in Feb 2012, but they did not keep any ‘case specific’ records so cannot confirm.”

“I only have a small works pension that I had taken early. I also a degenerative back condition which causes me pain most days and I  suffer from Asthma.

I really don’t know how I would manage at all, if I didn’t have my husband and his Pension to rely on as well. He is now 70 with his own health issues. My Mother almost 95 has also given financial support over the last few years.”

Both women are determined to fight the system so Amber Rudd in her new role  as work and pensions secretary better look out as a storm is gathering not only from them but from millions of other people who feel they have been robbed of their state pension when they should have had it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.