A Supreme Court verdict on Scottish human rights that could backfire on Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson

Last week the Supreme Court delivered a verdict against Scotland’s government that gave Boris Johnson a victory to stop both Scotland and Wales giving new rights to children, women, disabled people and protecting ethnic minorities from discrimination.

Supreme Court. Pic credit BBC News

The Tories were triumphant that Suella Braverman, QC, the Attorney General, employing the Treasury Devil. Sir James Eadie, to argue successfully that neither Scotland nor Wales could bring forward legislation to implement in full the UN convention on the Rights of the Child nor a European Charter on local self government. The Daily Mail said that it was ” a humiliation” for Nicola Sturgeon and could be used to stop any Scottish referendum. Tories in Scotland accused her of manufacturing a row with the UK by proposing to implement the charter in full.

The decision has implications for three other UN conventions – the Convention on Eliminating All forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw); a UN Convention outlawing racial discrimination and one giving full rights to disabled people effectively saying that even in areas of law already devolved to Scotland and Wales neither Parliament can legislate to implement these rights. The Scottish government was planning to introduce legislation to do this.

The immediate effect will be that Holyrood will have to remove clauses in two bills unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament to take out measures that give extra rights to children or the Queen will refuse Royal Assent to the measures.

Westminster overrides Scotland

The decision basically gives untrammelled rights to the Westminster Parliament to override the Scottish Parliament if it is thought its new law conflicts with lesser rights for children in England.

The issue was argued on constitutional grounds – not on any issues of the rights of any of these groups- who will now be denied these rights purely by the Westminster government saying it is outside the competence of Scotland to legislate in this way.

The judgement was made by five elderly and middle aged male judges and argued equally by a middle aged QC – he is 59 -the same QC who successfully argued before the Court of Appeal that the Department of Work and Pensions had no obligation to bother to tell women born in the 1950s and 1960s that they weren’t going to get their pensions until the age of 66 instead of 60. One is tempted to say ” male, pale and stale” government rules supreme in Westminster- though I may be guilty of ageism.

All male judicial decision

The five judges who unanimously took the decision are

Lord Reed, President, aged 65, a Scottish judge, Baron Reed of Allermuir
Lord Hodge, Deputy President, aged 68, Patrick Stewart Hodge
Lord Lloyd-Jones, aged 69, David Lloyd Jones, President of the Welsh Law Council
Lord Sales, aged 59, Philip James Sales
Lord Stephens, aged 66, Lord Stephens of Creevyloughgare, a Northern Ireland judge.

The full judgement is here. The key phrase is that the changes are outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament under the 1997, Scotland Act which limited the powers of the Scottish Parliament to legislate for certain matters. The judges were careful to say that this was not about the rights of children under the UN Convention only the manner the legislation . This might provide a loophole for the Scottish government.

Nicola Sturgeon – official portrait

Nicola Sturgeon the SNP leader and first minister, said in a tweet: ” The current powers of the @ScotParl leaves us unable to full protect children’s rights, even in devolved areas. If our Parliament was independent, no such restriction would apply.

” Anyone thinking this is an abstract argument should reflect that also today, the UK government is taking £20pw from the pockets of the poorest families- making it harder for many parents to provide essential for their children”.

John Swinney, deputy first minister, said: “While we fully respect the court’s judgment and will abide by the ruling, we cannot help but be bitterly disappointed. It makes plain that we are constitutionally prohibited from enacting legislation that the Scottish Parliament unanimously decided was necessary to enshrine and fully protect the rights of our children.

“The judgment exposes the devolution settlement as even more limited than we all – indeed the Scottish Parliament itself -­ had understood.  It sets out new constraints on the ability of our elected Scottish Parliament to legislate to protect children’s rights in the way it determines.

“There is no doubt that the implications of this judgment are significant from a children’s rights perspective. This Bill will not now become law in the form which our Parliament agreed, but we remain committed to the incorporation of the UNCRC to the maximum extent possible as soon as practicable.  Whilst the judgment means that the Bill cannot receive Royal Assent in its current form, the majority of work in relation to implementation of the UNCRC can and is continuing.”

What we have here is a warning shot of a huge row which could also become a centrepiece in the debate over the Scottish independence referendum.

Official portrait of Dominic Raab, Lord High Chancellor

For at the same time Dominic Raab, the new justice secretary, wants to scrap the present UK human rights legislation which still allows appeals to the European Court of Human Rights.

It looks like – whatever the spin – is that he wants to take away human rights from women, the disabled, children and those facing racial discrimination- just at the point when Scotland and Wales want to extend them. We therefore have a perfect storm which could end with the break-up of the UK which is why I say this victory by Boris Johnson could backfire. It could end up being a Pyrrhic victory.

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Time for a new UN convention on the rights of older people

Today is the United Nations International Day of Older Persons. As the number of older people grows in developed countries they are becoming a much bigger force.

Yet as we see in the UK the government pays mere lip service to them – trying to present the general public with the idea that they are all well off and preferring to focus on the young.

Indeed the present Tory government thinks it can get away with targeting them – along with the poor- for the mainstay of their new post pandemic austerity polices.

In the last few years they have taken away free TV licences for the over 75s, abolished the ” triple lock ” for pension rises for one of the lowest state pensions in developed countries, continually raise the pension age and targeted women born in the 1950s and 1960s -taking away around £50,000 in pension payments by raising their pension age.

Many people aged 60 cannot now get free bus passes until they are 66 and ministers now have their plans to make them pay full prescription charges from the ages of 60 to 66 – knowing that far more of them are unhealthy and suffer chronic ailments than younger people. And they are going to reintroduce national insurance contributions for those over 66 who supplement their pension by working.

Older people facing redundancy

There are also problems for older people being targeted for redundancies -indeed the organisation Rest Less, (website here) which monitors job prospects for the over 50s, suggests that there were half a million people over the age of 50 on furlough according to the latest figures. They are reporting growing numbers of economically inactive people in their 50s and 60s. How are they going to get a full pension?

So it is rather good news that JustFair – a campaigning organisation – is calling for a new international convention on the rights of older people. You can read about them and their proposal here. Sufficient to say it highlights a lot of issues affecting older women – and it has the backing of CEDAWinLaw which held a tribunal examining women’s rights and the case for putting that UN convention on eliminating all forms of discrimination against women into UK law.

As it says: “Gender inequality in older age is the result of disadvantages accumulated over the life course and further exacerbated by ageism and age discrimination. As a result, many older women are denied their rights, a situation further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic with its disproportionate effect on both older persons and women. It is estimated that the impact of the pandemic increased the gender gap by a generation.  This means that women will continue to reach older age in a disadvantaged position unless structural changes are made“.

Internationally the UN is highlighting a huge digital divide between developed nations and developing countries over the internet with older people the worst affected.

Yet, one-half of the global population is off-line, with the starkest contrast between the most developed countries (87%) and the least developed countries (19%) (ITU Facts and Figures 2020).

Age UK Dacorum’s campaign to highlight the UN day

There are also lots of local events today highlighting the day. In my area in Hertfordshire Dacorum Age UK have a fund raising campaign called ” Slip into Slippers” celebrating the dignity of old age and the fact that many older people play a big role in the community.

Charlie Hussey, development officer for Age UK Dacorum said: “We are asking individuals businesses schools and clubs to get involved by Slipping into Slippers for some of the day, and encourage people to have some fun, make a small voluntary donation and take some photos / videos. All to raise funds and awareness of Age UK Dacorum and highlight the needs of older people and equally importantly the contributions they can still make to our community. “

I am also raising funds for my own website to develop my work holding the government and the powerful to account. Please donate if you can

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HS2: The train going nowhere

Boris Johnson loves mad grandiose building projects ( remember the third London airport in the Thames Estuary) and more recently a tunnel/bridge under the Irish sea from Scotland to Northern Ireland.

Picturew of the design for the first HS2 trains

But what is emerging is that that even the most basic grandiose project -London’s Crossrail link and the high speed railway from London to Birmingham can’t be built on time to cost or even properly completed. A failure to integrate Crossrail with the rest of the railway system and continual cost rises for HS2 are the main reasons for delays.

MPs on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last week achieved one first – getting HS2 to provide some proper figures on the real costs. The entire HS2 project – if ever built from London to Scotland – will be £98 billion if not more. The first phase from London to Birmingham now has a budget of £44.6 billion – of which £11 billion has already been spent but we won’t see any results for the travelling public until 2029 at the earliest if not 2032. And probably in reality even later.

What is more disturbing is that service will initially run only from Birmingham to Old Oak Common in west London -not to London Euston where it can connect with other services.

Whitehall still quarrelling over the plans

Worse still internal Whitehall quarrelling means that they haven’t even fixed the most crucial arrangement – what will the Euston terminus look like.

“The redevelopment of Euston station is currently estimated to cost £2.6 billion. Despite HS2 Ltd telling us last year that the design of the station was ready for planning consent, the Department has spent the past 15 months looking for cost saving options and efficiency opportunities, including the potential for a smaller station.

” HS2 Ltd asserts that it is getting close to the point where the programme will literally run out of time if a decision is not made soon, and that Old Oak Common is being set as the London terminus when the railway first opens to decouple it from the risks at Euston.”

Gigantic building site at Euston. Pic credit: Global Railway Review

This is an extraordinary situation. It is made much worse because the area around Euston Station is now one gigantic building site after homes, shops and private businesses that border onto the existing station were demolished. And people living next to the site are being moved because of the noise and dust. And all for a new terminus whose configuration has still to be determined by the Department of Transport and which could be smaller than currently planned.

Further up the line there are disputes involving the land they are purchasing, environmental damage and pollution problems created by the development.

Volume of complaints rising

The MPs report: “We are already concerned about the volume of complaints on disruption from the programme which does not bode well for the future as more communities will be impacted as construction progresses. HS2 Ltd estimates it has handled 124,000 queries over the past three years and interacted with over 76,000 people along the route.

….”the number of complaints from the public about High Speed 2 has increased as main construction on Phase One has started. Complaints to the Independent Construction Commissioner HS2 rose to 86 in the first quarter of 2021 from 74 in the previous quarter. The majority of complaints are about the impact of construction on roads and traffic, vegetation clearance and about noise and vibration. Due to the scale of the programme and the time until the railway is complete, complaints are likely to increase.”

As part of its ” levelling up ” programme the government has promised to reskill the nation so people can get jobs as part of the regeneration of Britain post Brexit. Yet again the MPs point to further failures. The much trumpeted National College for High Speed Rail was a failure in attracting students and has had to be renamed the National College for Advanced Transport & Infrastructure and, most recently, merged with the University of Birmingham.

The MPs report: “The Department admits that the performance of the college has been disappointing and hopes that its latest merger, new leadership and new curriculum from September 2021 will be an opportunity to get the best out of the arrangement. Yet the Department’s involvement with the college has been limited as it falls under the Department for Education’s accountability remit.”

As for extending the railway to Scotland via Leeds and Sheffield that is in doubt and could be scaled back to Crewe. This has been partly confirmed by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, who in an interview yesterday with the Financial Times has cast doubt on whether the line from Birmingham to Leeds along the eastern side of England will ever be built – hinting that other projects may have priority.

We want to make sure we get trains to Leeds in a way that actually benefits people on the network and not blindly follow some plan invented 15 to 20 years ago which no longer benefits people.” he said.

This completely contradicts what he said only in May when he promised the government would “complete HS2 and include HS2 on the eastern leg to Leeds”. All this suggests that costs must be mounting up with another U turn in prospect.

If this is levelling up – it is farcical

So what do we have here? An extremely expensive part built railway that may not even initially link Birmingham and central London beset with issues and aeons away from the dream of a high speed line linking Scotland with central London.

If this is to be an example of ” levelling up ” Britain it is just farcical. Meanwhile in the European Union we left the high speed train network goes from strength to strength with new lines and a sleeper train network planned that will reduce the need for air travel – all part financed by British train customers as most of the companies running our train services are owned by state rail companies based in the EU.

Our new high speed train system is going nowhere soon and causing nothing but pain and disruption.

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Whitehall’s rip off ministry: The DWP dodges paying compensation to millions of pensioners – and the Parliamentary Ombudsman lets it off

Department for Work and Pensions or Department for Deviousness and Dishonesty?

You may remember I wrote a long article on a decision taken by the Government to no longer provide an index linked guaranteed minimum pension to millions of pensioners when they new pension came into force. The blog is here.

This decision never debated in Parliament meant the government has got away with not paying out anything from a £1000 to tens of thousands of pounds over the lifetime of their pension, depending on how long they were contracted out by their employer from the old SERPS scheme. The numbers could be as high as 11 million.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Robert Behrens, was asked to investigate and came to the conclusion that there had been maladministration and two people shared £1250 compensation. Unlike the row over the 50s and 60s born women who lost out by not being informed by the government over the rise in their pension age, no record exists, as far as I can find out, of the ministry repealing this provision in the 2014 Pensions Act.

Steve Webb: Ducking responsibility

And the man responsible for piloting that legislation, Liberal Democrat minister Sir Steve Webb, while publicly championing millions of women pensioners who have been underpaid by the ministry, is strangely silent about this issue which is he must be responsible.

What has happened since has taken morality and standards in Whitehall to new depths and exposed a level of deviousness and dishonesty among civil servants and cowardice in the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s Office that fittingly goes with a government headed by a serial liar.

In September 2019 the Ombudsman gave the ministry three months to sort out this issue. His proposals were quite clear. He asked the ministry to “review and report back on to us on the learning from this investigation, including action being taken to ensure that affected individuals receive appropriate communication from the DWP about their state pensions.

“ln particular, the DWP should ensure that their literature clearly and appropriately references that some individuals, who have large GMPs and reach State Pension Age in the early years of the new State Pension, may be negativity affected by the changes. The DWP should advise individuals to check their circumstances, and should provide instructions for how to do this;”

Sweet nothing happened

So what happened? Sweet nothing. The DWP ignored the deadline and then produced a factsheet which I know from correspondence the Ombudsman clearly felt did not fit the bill. But after one attempt to get this changed the Ombudsman dumped the issue and wimped out of getting the ministry to implement their recommendations.

Their press office told me: “

“We closed this case in November 2020 after working with the Department for Work and Pensions on compliance. At this point we referred the case to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, to oversee DWP’s ongoing work in this area. They will hold the Department to account on the actions it has agreed to take.

Actually the communication got lost and the committee knew nothing of this to the following April.

The DWP to cover its back claimed when challenged said:

“Working with the Ombudsman, we have now published information on gov.uk about this complex policy area and welcome anyone who wants to know how they have been affected by the policy change to contact us.

“Publishing this factsheet is the final step in the DWP meeting the requirements of the PHSO findings in relation to the way the GMP indexation policy change was communicated.”

It turns out that the Ombudsman agreed to this tardy response.

23 month delay

What finally happened was on August 12 in the middle of the Parliamentary recess, the department 23 months after being asked put out a publication notice amending its guidelines. The link is here.

I can’t imagine a more devious method about informing people and Parliament about this – in the middle of the August holiday. It is designed not to be seen.

Furthermore it does not comply with the recommendations which is why I say it is dishonest. There is no reference as you will see to the Ombudsman’s report, and the fact that people could be entitled to compensation. There is no mechanism for people to apply for the compensation and the notice was not even accompanied by a press release.

The losses are considerable for some people – about £27,000 for some women over the lifetime of their pension – but the information does not spell that out properly. Indeed all the DWP had to do was copy and paste as I have – a table from the Government’s Actuary Department ( at the bottom of this blog) which provided an ” oven ready ” guide to the losses.

Pathetic consultation using ignoramuses

A pathetic consultation process was held by the DWP – where they sought out the most ignorant people about pensions to comment- and only found seven out of 40 who agreed.. We only know this because the Commons Works and Pensions Committee published the details – the ministry itself has not published it.

There are probably millions of people who should at least get £500 in compensation but Therese Coffey, the secretary of state, is determined that nobody should know about it. It does not bode well for the 50s and 60s born women over their pensions compensation. She has already said the Labour Party should compensate the women not the taxpayer.

Time for a Women’s Rights Law and real radical change – CEDAW President’s report

Jocelynne Scutt, President of the CEDAW People’s Tribunal

A major blueprint for how the United Kingdom can transform its laws to end all forms of discrimination against women and properly implement the UN convention ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 has been published by the CEDAW People’s Tribunal.

The 252 page report written by Jocelynne Scutt, with the backing of a researcher team,, proposes to end the piecemeal implementation of parts of the UN Convention Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination, both in national law and in different parts of the UK.

Its conclusion said: “The proposal now made by the CEDAW People’s Tribunal that the United Kingdom seize the opportunity now presented to it and introduce a Women’s Bill of Rights into the United Kingdom Parliament provides
a real opportunity to do this – create a climate where women’s rights are truly recognised as human rights, and human rights as women’s rights – with the United Kingdom taking the lead.”

it says it is time to replace fine words by politicians on women’s rights with deeds and includes comprehensive proposals backed up by research for almost every conceivable area of British life to improve the rights of women. Indeed in the space of one article it is impossible to encompass every area of this report – you will have to read and study it for yourself.

The shortcomings of the Equality Act

Some of the more dramatic findings reveal shortcomings in the 2010 Equality Act – which is probably the UK’s major contribution to women’s rights – both in sections that have never been implemented and the fact that its provisions don’t apply to Northern Ireland – which the present government insists should remain an integral part of the UK.

To back up that last point the report said:
” No devolved authority to have the power to undercut or reduce the provisions, extent or scope of the Women’s Bill of Rights and to address any potential conflict or proposal by any devolved authority to do so, the UK Act to include a provision prohibiting its terms from being excised from operation in the devolved jurisdictions. This provision to be based in the principle herein stated, namely that all women of the United Kingdom, wherever residing, are entitled to equal rights without being deprived of them by reason of residency in any devolved jurisdiction.”

But it does not rule out as Scotland and Wales introducing their own legislation both to improve any UK Act or if the government doesn’t introduce any legislation for Scotland and Wales to go ahead with their own law as they are proposing to do now.

Royal Courts of Justice – time judges learnt about CEDAW

The report also insisted on widespread training for lawyers and public officials on what CEDAW means.

“That the Women’s Bill of Rights include a provision making it mandatory for members of the judiciary and magistracy at all levels to receive education and training on an initial and regular basis, including remaining up to date with CEDAW jurisprudence, and that this provision extend to all holders of public office, whether by appointment or election, in international, national and local bodies and authorities.”

This is a point I felt during the Court of Appeal hearing on the judicial review of women’s pensions that the judges did not seem to have a clue about CEDAW – and in my view this contributed to their decision to throw out the case.

It also makes it mandatory for every piece of legislation to have a gender impact assessment and for all government departments to have a gender impact assessment for every new policy they introduce. Since women are the majority in this country I would have thought that to be essential.

The report picked up that many women do not understand their rights because it is not presented in simple and clear language and the information is not available ( take the 50swomen case in informing women about the rise in the pension age for example).

The ” whole person ” approach to women’s rights and discrimination

There is also a failure to connect discrimination against women to other serious forms of discrimination. As the report said:

“The discrimination of women based on sex and gender is inextricably linked with other factors that affect women, such as race, ethnicity, religion or belief, health, status, age, class, caste and sexual orientation and gender identity. Discrimination on the basis of sex or gender may affect women belonging to such groups to a different degree or in different ways to men. States parties must legally recognize such intersecting forms of discrimination and their compounded negative impact on the women concerned and prohibit them.”

Where is particularly bad the report said the government should use “special measures” – specific legislation to address the problem – to end this inequality.

The report looked at major policy issues such as Brexit, climate change, the Covid 19 pandemic and the Windrush scandal and how they affected women.

It quoted evidence on how these separate issues impacted on each other. One passage read:

“The evidence further provided a snapshot view of the rise in hostility in the lead-up to, the confirmation of, and the continuing aftermath of Brexit. The Covid pandemic has exacerbated this, in that because Black and minoritised women (along with their male counterparts) have been in the forefront – both as doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and cleaning staff in hospitals, and suffering from being more susceptible to the virus – this has militated against their interests in the community, too – drawing racist attacks as if they are to blame because of that greater susceptibility”.

It tackled controversial issues such as migration, asylum seekers, women being detained in prison and made strong recommendations on how to deal with these issues. And it dealt with the lack of equal pay for women, and being forced by the partners into credit debts -coining the phrase ” sexually transmitted debt.”

” Sexually transmitted debt”

“This term, coined by lawyer Jenny Lawton and barrister Emma Swart recognises the position of women who, believing
their signature does not ‘count’ and under pressure that is difficult or impossible to counter, sign contracts – including mortgages and guarantees – at the behest of husband or partner, plunging them into debts they did not envisage, from which they do not profit, and which they did not wish to accumulate. Not infrequently, this occurs with the complicity, to a greater or lesser degree and even amounting to collusion, with banks or other financial providers.”

It also looked at faith marriages among the South Asian community which are not recognised by civil law and how they can lead to polygamous marriages, trafficking and women left with nothing in a divorce settlement.

This gives you an idea both of the breadth of issues covered by the tribunal and the need for widespread reform in many areas to give women full rights. And I haven’t touched on violence against women and domestic abuse.

This is truly a major document and a basis for major campaign to change the entire approach to women’s rights. Read it, digest it, and go forward and campaign for change.

UPDATED: CEDAW IN LAW goes to Downing Street to petition Boris Johnson to introduce a REAL Women’s Rights Bill

UPDATED: WITH FULL ROTHERS RADIO PROGRAMME ON CEDAW

Today a group of women from the CEDAW People’s Tribunal led by its president, former judge Dr Jocelynne Scutt went to Downing Street to petition the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to introduce a comprehensive women’s rights bill.

This is the latest move in a campaign to persuade the government to implement the UN Convention to End All forms of Discrimination Against Women ratified by Margaret Thatcher as long ago as 1986.

It would pave the way for proper gender sensitive legislation and transform the rights of women still fighting for equal pay, equal treatment and better protection from, domestic violence, rape and abuse.

Above is a video now on You Tube of the event. I came along to report it for this blog

Dr Scutt was accompanied by four of the many legal assistants who helped the campaign. They are Katie Capstick, Pietra Asprou, Clara Guitau and Sara Vincezotti.

The event was organised by the steering committee involving Ann Fenner, Kris Gibson, Michaela Hawkins, Louise Matthews, Davina Lloyd and Joanne Welch.

One intriguing insight. The handing over of the petition was delayed a little as Boris Johnson, who was in residence, had to dash outside from No 10 to No 9 Downing Street. He was in the middle of the virtual G7 summit at the time with Afghanistan on his mind. No doubt once he got to see the petition it would remind him that there were also issues like women’s rights in the UK which are not going to go away either.

The next step shortly will be the publication of the report from the People’s Tribunal. There is also a radio interview with me, Joanna Welch and Davina Lloyd tonight who both organised the tribunal with the amazing help of human rights lawyers from Garden Court Chambers.

Ian Rothwell special programme on Salford City Radio

Special programme on BackTo60 and CEDAW; Interviews with Dr Davina Lloyd, chair of the CEDAW Tribunal Steering Committee; Joanne Welsh and myself talking about how the moves in Scotland and Wales are complementing the work of CEDAW. Press on the button below to hear the entire programme ( one hour)

Enjoy the programme and thanks to Ian Rothwell and Salford City Radio for allowing me to put it on my blog.

Labour’s devastating summer of appalling council by-election results

Sir Keir Starmer: Labour’s bad record in council by-elections

Council by election results are not always a guide to a party’s performance in a general election because local issues can determine how people vote. But they are a guide to how the most politically active think since the people who vote are likely to be those most interested their local community. They are also a guide to how each political party can get their vote out and are real results – not an opinion poll.

Whatever way you put it this summer- with a couple of exceptions- has been a disaster for Sir Keir’s Starmer’s new model Labour Party. As well as the high profile Parliamentary loss of Hartlepool to the Tories, only just holding on to Batley and Spen and the collapse of the Labour vote to the Lib Dems in Chesham and Amersham it is the local council by-election results that have been particularly bad.

Since this is against the background of a pretty incompetent Tory government facing allegations of corruption and mucking up people’s summer holiday arrangements by constantly changing the rules and causing confusion about what, if any, rules to follow to keep safe from Covid 19, it is no mean achievement for Labour to lose more electoral support.

The by-election results also show that underneath the serenity of a successful and well organised NHS vaccination programme the political scene is pretty volatile. Council seats that should have naturally stayed under the same party’s control are falling to other parties with enormous changes in vote share. The trouble is that in England and Scotland Labour is not the beneficiary. The exception is Wales. In the one Welsh by-election in the Rhondda, Labour did do well with the Tory share falling significantly.

The pattern that is emerging for Labour- from both the Midlands and the North- is that the Tories are consolidating the gains they made in 2019 and wooing the working class vote in once safe Labour areas. If this continues Labour under Starmer might lose more Parliamentary seats in a snap election in 2023 than Corbyn lost in 2019 and the Conservative Home dream list of scores of fresh Tory gains in Yorkshire , the North East, and the East and West Midlands become reality. In Yorkshire alone this means 11 seats could go.

Tories consolidating 2019 election gains

Examples of consolidation include Tory by-election wins from Labour in Grimsby, Bassetlaw and Sandwell and North East Lincolnshire. In Sandwell the Tory share of the vote was up 20 pc, the Labour share down 13.7 per cent. In Bassetlaw, the East Retford South seat saw the Labour share down 47 per cent and the Tory share up 25 per cent with the intervention of an Independent.

Even more concerning for Labour should be by-election results in Leicester, Harlow and Basildon. In Leicester Tories gained their first seat on the council with an 18 per cent rise in vote share while Labour slumped nearly 16 per cent. With the full council up for election next year, the Tories are hoping for large scale gains and possibly one of the city’s Parliamentary seats soon.

In Harlow and Basildon Tories took council seats in Labour areas like Pitsea in Basildon and Mark Hall in Harlow. The Labour vote share was down 16 pc in Basildon and Tories up nearly 15pc. In Basildon the Tory share was up 24 per cent enough to take the seat from Labour who kept a 41 per cent vote share. These new towns used to have Labour councils and Labour MPs like Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire. In Hemel there are now no Labour councillors.

Greens having remarkable results

The Tories are on the defensive in rural England and the South and West of England. But the main beneficiaries are the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. The Greens had a remarkable result in Somerset going from nowhere to 64.9 per cent vote share when the Liberal Democrats did not contest the seat. They held on to a seat in Staines just outside London, and gained seats in Aldeburgh in Suffolk and Mid Sussex from the Tories. In Aldeburgh they just pipped the Tories with a 26 per cent rise in vote share and in Balcombe, Mid Sussex they won a little more convincingly with a 13 per cent rise.

Lib Dems winning “safe” Tory council seats

The Liberal Democrats also did well winning seats from the Tories in Knaresborough, King’s Lynn, all with big swings in their vote share ( 28pc in King’s Lynn and 20 per cent in Knaresborough). In some seats the Labour vote switched to the Lib Dems, in other cases it remained steady but the Lib Dems leapfrogged Labour. The Lib Dems also took a seat from the Tories in Cobham in Dominic Raab’s Esher constituency with a 18.4 per cent rise in vote share. Labour did benefit on East Devon council when the voters switched to Labour when the Lib Dems did not stand winning a seat at Honiton.

In Scotland Labour lost a council seat to the SNP on West Lothian council, Vote share was down by nine per cent.

What does this all mean? Difficult to gauge from a clutch of by-election results, but it does suggest the electorate is particularly volatile and not necessarily enamoured with the Tories in rural areas. But it shows Labour has a long way to go.

The worst scenario would be if the Labour Party continued to haemorrhage votes to the Tories in the provincial cities and to the Greens and Liberal Democrats elsewhere. In the end the internal disputes could lead to the Socialist members permanently switching to the Greens and the moderate members switching to the Liberal Democrats. It would mean the end of Labour as a mainstream party. It hasn’t come to that yet, but could be unless Labour comes forward with a much more aggressive and thought provoking agenda.

Dumped at 50? Disturbing figures as furlough comes to an end

Rishi Sunak, will the furloughed over 50s ever get back to work?

On the day Chancellor Rishi Sunak cuts the support to companies using the furlough scheme to 60 per cent of the wages paid to the 1.9 million people still on furlough, some very disturbing figures are beginning to emerge on the make up of the numbers left.

Both the think tank Resolution Foundation and Rest Less report that it is the older generation rather than the young that are not getting called back to work.

While headlines have concentrated on the serious issue of the mental health of the young who cannot find work, official figures reveal a growing problem for the old.

HMRC data shows that younger workers have been leaving furlough most quickly, with the share of under 18 staff furloughed falling from 13 per cent in May to 7 per cent in June, and from 10 to 6 per cent for those aged 18-24. One-in-ten workers aged 65 and over were on furlough – the highest share of any age group. The Foundation has warned of older workers being ‘parked’ on furlough as younger workers return to work as hospitality reopens.

London remains the furlough capital of Britain, with nine of the ten local authorities with the highest furlough rates in the capital, including Newham and Hounslow where around one-in-eight workers are still on the Job Retention Scheme.

Rest Less, a digital community and advocate for the over 50s, analysed Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) Statistics issued by the government on 29 July and found that the total number of furloughed jobs fell from 2.4 million to 1.9 million between May and June* – a fall of 590,000.

Proportion of over 50s furloughed is rising

Whilst the number of furloughed roles fell across all age groups, the proportion of over 50s on furlough has been steadily increasing this year, rising from 27% in January to 34% in June. In contrast, the proportion of under 30s on furlough fell from 29% to 21% in the same time period.

Both sets of figures show that those over 50 are going to find it harder to get a job and build up enough years to claim a full state pension between the age of 50 and 666 or 67 when they can claim the state pension. Being out of work also means that they won’t qualify for a second work based pension either – possibly forcing them to have to claim pension credit if they can.

Charlie McCurdy, Economist at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“The number of furloughed employees has fallen below two million for the first time as the economy continues to reopen. But that is higher than many expected, and a cause for concern as the scheme is wound down.”

Fresh wave of redundancies

Stuart Lewis, Founder of Rest Less, commented: “The country is reopening, and the total number of people on furlough is falling quickly – by three million since the beginning of the year.  However, the recovery is clearly not working for everyone, with more than 630,000 people aged over 50 still on furlough and waiting to find out if they have a job to go back to.  This is in addition to the 568,000 over 50s claiming job seeking or out of work benefits. 

When the furlough scheme draws to a close next month, we’re expecting it to be accompanied by a fresh wave of redundancies and another spike in unemployment levels – delivering another blow to workers in their 50s and 60s.


Faced with significant age discrimination in the recruitment process, and no Government equivalent to the Kickstart scheme for older workers – the implications of redundancy for workers in their late 50s or early 60s can be significant.

‘Once made redundant, workers over the age of 50 are two and a half times as likely to be in long term unemployment than their younger counterparts. Rather than being able to top up their pensions in those crucial years before retirement, many will find themselves having to dip into what pension savings they do have – leading to a significant drop in long term retirement income for decades to come.”

Yet the government seems obsessed with continuing to raise the pension age when it is becoming clear that the old generation are facing the greatest difficulty in getting jobs. A new generation will be living in poverty with failing health and that poverty will not end when they eventually get their pension.

Tory MPs “egregious behaviour” in pressurising judges to hide their lobbying for convicted sex offender colleague

Charles Elphicke , former MP and sex offender

If ever there was a case of one rule for the well connected and another for ordinary plebs, the exposure of this ruling out today by the House of Commons Standards Committee is a great example.

It centres round the conviction of Charles Elphicke, the former Tory MP for Dover,  of three counts of sexual assault on two women in July last year and sentenced in last September to two years in prison. He is currently appealing the case.

The MPs had given glowing character references for Mr Elphicke in the hope of mitigating his sentence and became alarmed when newspapers wanted the judge involved in the case to release the names of everybody who had given character references for him.

So instead of publicly objecting the MPs decided to write on Commons notepaper to Dame Kathryn Thirwall, Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, and Dame Victoria Sharp, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, copied to Mrs Justice Whipple. Mrs Justice Whipple had heard the trial of a former Member, Charlie Elphicke, and was to hear and decide on an application to release the pre-sentencing character references.

Natalie Elphicke MP – organised the letter for her husband

The five Tory MPs were Mrs Natalie Elphicke, the former MP’s wife; Sir Roger Gale, former Cabinet minister, Theresa Villiers, Adam Holloway and Colonel Bob Stewart. Natalie Elphicke organised the letter.

The MPs said  to disclose the references would be a “radical change to judicial practice” which “could have the [sic] chilling effect and harm the criminal justice system”. 

They got a stiff reply from the Private Secretary to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales November to the letter stating that “It is improper to seek to influence the decision of a judge in a matter of which he or she is seized in this way. [ … ] It is all the more regrettable when representatives of the legislature, writing as such on House of Commons notepaper, seek to influence a judge in a private letter and do so without regard for the separation of powers or the independence of the judiciary”.

Their names- along with life peer Lord Freud- became public when Mrs Justice Whipple released them in a court ruling.

Theresa Villiers MP – as a barrister should have been aware it was an improper act

The Standards Committee ruled today that what the MPs” by acting as they did risked giving the impression that elected politicians can bring influence to bear on the judiciary, out of public view and in a way not open to others. Such egregious behaviour is corrosive to the rule of law and, if allowed to continue unchecked, could undermine public trust in the independence of judges.”

The committee recommends that three of the MPs Mrs Natalie Elphicke, Sir Roger Gale, and Theresa Villiers be suspended from the House for one sitting day, and should apologise to the House by means of a letter to the Committee.

Sir Roger Gale -Unrepentant ” I would do it again”. Pic credit: Twitter

The other two MPs, Bob Stewart and Adam Holloway – who decided to sign the letter after glancing at it for 20 seconds- should apologise to the House of Commons in a personal statement.

The committee recommends all five Members should also apologise to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales by letter copied to the Committee. The terms of all the apologies (both by letter and by personal statement) should be agreed in advance by Mr Speaker and the Chair of the Committee.

Four of the five MPs have been contrite about bringing Parliament into disrepute after being summoned by the committee – but Sir Roger Gale has refused to apologise and said he would do it again. He told the committee: “I would find a different way of doing it, but would I do it again—would I seek to achieve the same effect? Yes, I would”.

The report points out that Theresa Villiers is an experienced Member of the House, a trained barrister, and a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. “We would have expected a Member of her seniority and experience, with legal expertise, to have been particularly aware that her actions in this case were an attempt improperly to interfere in judicial proceedings.”

Earlier this year Lord Freud was ordered by the Lords Commissioner for Standards to apologise and make a statement. A report was published on my blog here.

England’s buses “expensive, unreliable and dysfunctional” – damning findings of a former UN human rights expert

Bus stop image; Pic credit: Pexels Suzy Hazelwood

A report out today by Philip Alston, the former United Nations rapporteur on human rights, condemns the outcome of Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation of the country’s bus services for denying rights to the people of the UK. He came to the UK to interview people about bus services and contacted some of the bus companies.

In a stinging review he finds that many people have lost jobs and benefits, faced barriers to healthcare, been forced to give up on education, sacrificed food and utilities, and been cut off from friends and family because of a costly, fragmented, and inadequate privatized bus service that has failed them.
“Over the past 35 years, deregulation has provided a master class in how not to run an essential public service, leaving residents at the mercy of private actors who have total discretion over how to run a bus route, or whether to run one at all,” said Philip Alston, who authored the report with Bassam Khawaja and Rebecca Riddell, Co-directors of the Human Rights and Privatization Project at New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. “In case after case, service that was once dependable, convenient, and widely-used has been scaled back dramatically or made unaffordable.”

He describes the form of privatisation as the most extreme possible – with the exception of London where Transport for London has overall control of how private operators run services.

He is also critical of the government’s new bus strategy started by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, saying merely tinkers with the existing system, offering ineffective half measures that fail to address the structural cause of the
country’s bus crisis.

Philip Alston getting people’s views at a public meeting in Newham, East London. Pic credit: Bassam Khawaja

Some of the points in the report.

“People living in London, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can get a concessionary pass to travel for free on buses at the age of 60, an important measure that guarantees older people access to transport. But in England outside London, the government has tied the bus pass to the female state pension age—which was changed from 60 to 66, severely penalizing those on the cusp of retirement who had every expectation that they could rely on a pension and a free bus pass in the next phase of their lives. The UK government should rectify this injustice

“The abysmal state of the bus system in many rural areas is perhaps the strongest argument against a deregulated, for-profit approach to public transportation.

” There is no reason why rural parts of the United Kingdom cannot have a functioning bus service. The Zurich region of Switzerland guarantees villages of 300 people or more at least an hourly service seven days a week. In North Hesse, Germany, bus routes reach all communities with more than 200-250 residents on at least an hourly basis, with ambitions to double public transport use by 2030. Notably, none of these systems rely on an unregulated market to provide this essential service.”

He makes a strong case for bus services to be returned to public ownership and for Parliament to lay down minimum standards for the provision of bus services.

This really is a damning indictment of the state of bus services in England and it has human rights implications because women, people with disabilities, the poor and those living in rural areas cannot access services or get jobs because of poor transport. As usual ministers are pretending they provide good services while other similarly rich countries -like Switzerland and Germany -provide services that English people can only dream about. In the meantime the bus operators make good profits by not providing the services they need.

Philip Alston hears from people affected in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Pic credit: Bassam Khawaja