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

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

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

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

See my full story here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standing firm for full restitution for 50swomen

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

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

Crowds of BackTo60 supporters after the judicial review hearing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chris mullin

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.

 

 

Local Elections 2018: Reality triumphs over expectation

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Local elections 2018 Pic credit:BBC

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The local elections have been portrayed  in the mass media as a disappointment for Labour ,a shot in the arm for Theresa May and a revival for the Liberal Democrats

In the pre election scenario Labour were expected  to  sweep all before them winning Tory councils in London and elsewhere, Theresa May was going to face a dire night and the Lib Dems were not going to do so well because of their poll ratings.

Yes  Labour are partly to blame for creating this scenario  with the promise of a Momentum style surge knocking  the Tories out of Barnet, Westminster, Wandsworth and Hillingdon in London and winning Swindon, Plymouth and Trafford outside the capital. They had high expectations after the surprise  rebirth under Jeremy Corbyn in the last general election and thought another heave would do it.

But it would be very foolish to write up these elections as the end of Labour’s progress or  ruling out a slow revival of the Liberal Democrats.

For a start the final analysis of voting by the BBC shows that if there was a  general election was based on these voting figures Labour would have got another 21 seats, andbecome the largest party in Parliament . The Tories would have lost 38 seats and the Lib Dems gained another 10. If that had  happened last year Theresa May would not have been able to form a government and it would be Labour plus a coalition that would be negotiating with Brussels.  And if you compare it with last year’s council elections it was the Tories making nearly all the gains. not Labour.

A more detailed analysis shows why this is true. Although Labour did not gain the breakthrough to take another four London boroughs from the Tories, their vote share was much nearer than their seat share. In Westminster where the Lab vote share jumped by 7.6 per cent – the difference in percentage support between Labour and the Tories is not much more than point. In Wandsworth there is only a 150 votes difference between the Tories and Labour running the council.

Even in Barnet where Labour’s self inflicted wound over antisemitism  led to a 13 seat Tory majority- the Tories biggest gains – the Labour share of the vote went up 2.8 pc but was trumped by a 6.6 per cent rise for the Tories.

Also not noticed in London is that Labour increased the number of seats on councils they already run, notably in Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Hammersmith and Fulham and Waltham Forest – which will make it difficult for the Tories to regain Parliamentary seats.

In Swindon where Labour gained just one seat more people voted Labour than Tory but obviously not in the key wards. Interestingly in Plymouth where Labour won the council, more people voted Tory than Labour but not in the right places.

Also where councils switched from no overall control to Tory control – it was often by a couple of seats in places like Peterborough. The one exception was Nuneaton and Bedworth where the Tories were robbed – they got 51 per cent of the vote there but could win enough seats to take the council.

The other big factor which stymied Labour  and helped the Tories was UKIP. Many UKIP voters became Tories so they could get a hard Brexit. In Basildon and Great Yarmouth this gave the Tories the edge over Labour.  Labour did take  back seats from UKIP, but the Tories took more. In Great Yarmouth former UKIP candidates actually became Tory candidates. Britain Elects shows this disparity examining 81 UKIP losses with the Tories gaining 47 seats from UKIP while Labour gained 30.

It should not be a total surprise that the Lib Dems do well in local elections, they have won quite  a number of by-elections over the last year. But in three councils- where the whole authority was up for grabs – they did spectacularly well, trouncing the Tories. These are South Cambridgeshire, Richmond and Kingston, where they won sweeping gains pushing the Tories out. They also won seats in Hull, Sunderland  and Gosport but were pushed back in Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne.

So what is the prospect? The Tories can take comfort that they were not trounced and could claim a mandate for a hard Brexit after hoovering up  much of the UKIP vote. It is rather ironic that Theresa May treated councils she had not lost  as a victory parade-normally you go to places to celebrate a Tory gain.

Labour need to tackle the antisemitic issue promptly and to reflect soberly on how they need more than an incompetent government to form a majority administration. And the Lib Dems need to build on their local government base as a springboard to win  more seats in Westminster.

The reality for all parties is that it is going to be a hard slog to get or stay in government.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theresa May’s wasted £11.2 billion of taxpayers money on initiatives Tory youth doesn’t want

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The Tory conference was supposed to be the point when Theresa May announced a raft of policies to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s wooing of the youth vote.

If she had  left the main platform of the conference and slipped into a packed Adam Smith Institute fringe meeting at the Manchester conference she would have been sorely disappointed.

The meeting chaired by a young Times journalist ,Grant Tucker, was meant to be a discussion on what  the millennial generation want and how they can get young voters away from Jeremy Corbyn.

Predictably it was hostile to any Corbyn programme of  rent control and nationalisation but what was extraordinary was the hostility to the May announcements earlier in the week.

The meeting was  heavily dominated by the housing crisis facing the young Tories – almost to a man and woman – all privately renting and paying up to 50 per cent of their monthly post tax income for small rooms in shared flats.

The £10 billion put aside to massively expand the Help to Buy programme was universally condemned from both the platform, by Madsen Pirie from the Adam Smith Institute, and by the audience as exactly the wrong thing to do.

Madsen Pirie

Madsen Pirie Pic credit: wikipedia

They saw it as putting up house prices even more beyond reach and doing nothing to aid the supply of affordable homes. Nor did they want a big council house building programme.

What they wanted was a liberalisation of the planning laws and a mass release of land to allow not a few thousands but a million, yes a million, homes built  in three years to totally change the affordability of housing and bringing back mass home ownership.

Nor were they impressed with a £1.2 billion spent freezing student loans at £9250 and raising the pay back level to £25,000. What they wanted was instead the abolition of the new 6.1 per cent interest rate on loans, pointing out that this could add £5000 to payments soon after students graduated.

So how has May got this so very,very wrong. The answer was plain to see. The Tory leadership is not listening to them. What came over to me was that thus young strand of the Tory’s future had no influence on what their leaders did and were very frustrated and even angry about it.

Unlike at Labour where it is clear that young people – as members of the party had an input – these young people seemed to be treated as election fodder to get the mainly elderly Tory vote out.

There was other thing I noticed at this gathering.There was not a black or brown face to be seen, they were universally white, again unlike Labour. Yet they were not all from the Tory shires, some were from multiracial Bristol, and another from Camberwell and Peckham. Given what diverse place this is, I was surprised there was no ethnic minority representation. I had seen a more diverse audience at an earlier fringe organised by Westminster council.

What this augurs for the future of the Tory Party is not good for them. Their membership is already elderly and falling. If they don’t take any notice of their young membership they are doomed to oblivion – just as Tory campaigner John Strafford said earlier this week.

 

 

Exclusive: Tories face “oblivion” says party campaigner as membership plummets to 100,000

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One of the Tory’s longest serving campaigners is predicting the party is facing ” oblivion” after losing nearly 40,000 members this summer following Theresa May’s failure to secure a majority government at the general election.

John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, in an  eve of conference exclusive interview  on the Tribune magazine website, says the real membership of the party has plummeted to around 100,000- way below the 149,500 figure and 134,000 figure used by the party in 2013.

Mr Strafford said: “The party is facing oblivion. If you take the fact only 10 per cent of the membership is likely to be very active they will not have enough people on the ground to fight an election – they won’t even have enough people to man polling stations on the day.

“They are keeping council seats because often the families of the councillors are campaigning with party members to get them re-elected. They simply don’t have the local resources to do this in a general election.”

According to Mr Strafford in 300 of the Parliamentary constituency parties  – nearly half the MPs in Parliament – membership has dropped to 100 people or fewer.

The contrast with Labour could not be stronger – with the party already having 569,500 members and launching a further on line membership drive after their conference.

Membership could also be lower than the Liberal Democrats who have also seen a jump in members from 61,000  to 102,000.

He said a series of recent events had led to this parlous state of affairs. The leadership contest after David Cameron announced his resignation initially led to the Tories recruiting an extra 40,000 members who wanted a say in voting for the next leader and Prime Minister.

But when Andrea Leadsom pulled out from challenging Theresa May – there was no vote for the leadership- and Theresa May became PM without an election.

The situation was compounded when Theresa May called a snap election and rather than allowing constituency parties to select their own candidate – imposed candidates in seats that did not have one selected.

John Strafford pic credit Conservative Home

John Strafford Pic credit: Conservative Home

The bad handling of the campaign irritated party members – as many activists assuming Jeremy Corbyn had no chance  were sent to Labour held seats with large majorities with the aim of toppling the  sitting MP – while leaving Tory marginals undefended. One example was Slough – where instead of the Tories taking the seat the new Labour MP was returned with a huge increase in his majority.

As a result nearly all the 40000 new members recruited by the Tory leadership battle last year have not renewed their membership because, according to Mr Strafford they have found out they have little say in party proceedings or policies. Again the contrast with Labour which is devolving more power to its members could not be stronger. ” They are just not renewing their membership with some constituency parties which recruited hundreds of members finding only a handful renewing.”

The plummeting membership is one reason why some MPs are becoming restive. One  with his ear to ground is Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow, who this week in Conservative Home  backs John Strafford’s analysis that lack of democracy is driving away members.

” I began to realise that, far from being a lunatic, John was quite sane…and it was perhaps us who closed our ears to what he was saying who were the crazy ones. For many years, he rightly predicted that a lack of democracy would lead to a loss of membership. He was right.”

The issue will be raised at the Tory Party conference fringe in Manchester next week.

On Monday the  Campaign for Conservative Democracy will hold a fringe meeting to discuss how to tackle this by injecting some democracy to attract members.

The Adam Smith Institute will hold a meeting on Tuesday to address why 60 per cent of young people are supporting Jeremy Corbyn and how the party needs new policies to attract a younger membership.

How party politics have changed. A year ago it was Jeremy Corbyn whom the Tories regarded as unelectable and a joke. Now it is the Tories that are worried they are becoming unelectable  and are running a party few people would want to join.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden in plain sight: Labour trains a new generation of political activists

labour_conference Pic credit politicshome

Labour Conference 2017: the top of the iceberg Pic credit: politicshome

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The Labour  Party conference this year was like one huge political iceberg.

The ten per cent that was visible was dominated by the passionate, football chant style support for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – as the architects of a Labour revival that had seen membership soar to 569,500. It did unveil new and radical policies.It suppressed a public row over Brexit  which I notice Danny Finkelstein on The Times saw as shrewd politics, leaving divided Tories to take the flak. It contained a dispute about whether there was anti-Semitism among  Left wingers despite the best efforts of Guido Fawkes ,the Daily Mail and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to stir the pot.

But under the eyes of the media ( who were given very restricted access to the conference hall) the hidden 90 per cent of the Labour conference was carrying out another revolution which will ensure that the current revival of political activism among the young has a long term future.

Contrary to what most Conservatives would like to think the 369,000 new party members who joined after Corbyn became leader are not all former card carrying members of the Social Workers Party, the Communist Party and other Left wing groupings. And they even applies to those who joined Momentum

Just on a micro political point, members of the local Labour Party in Berkhamsted and Tring in  Hertfordshire have jumped from about 40 to 450 as a result of Corbyn.. If they were all committed former Communists, I think I would have noticed. Having lived in Berko since 1983, the town is not known for having Marxist banners festooned all over Berkhamsted station or the civic centre.

No the truth is – thanks to lack of any political  or civic education in our schools – they have ideals, strong views but little hard knowledge of how to participate in a political democracy. Many may be savvy with social media but need to know how to use it for the benefit of the Labour Party.

There were sessions on door knocking, electoral law, what becoming a councillor is like. making Labour Party branch meetings more fun, championing equality, building up women’s forums,  getting more disabled friendly meetings and how to use the traditional and social media to get your points across. There was also advice on how to tackle the problem of success, too many new members swamping local meetings.

Jeremy Corbyn has already transformed interest in politics by doubling the percentage of people involved in party membership in Britain. Now it looks as though Labour is going to get the new membership to engage in democracy. to help them win the next election. Even if only 10 per cent of the membership become fervent activists – that is still some 57,000 people – more than half the total Tory membership, I am told.

What is going to be interesting is when that hidden 90 per cent of the Labour iceberg hits  the opposition at the next election. Will it be the  sinking of the Tory Titanic or will the Tories try and steer well clear and come up with something new.

 

 

 

 

How Jeremy Corbyn (with a little help from Tim Farron) brought political activism back from the living dead

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Jeremy Corbyn rally – a sign of a revitalised party membership. Pic Credit; Twitter

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As the Labour conferences is just about to start   one of the greatest achievements of Jeremy Corbyn has been to revitalise political activism in Britain.

According to a report in the House of Commons library active membership of  political parties fell to its lowest ever recorded proportion of the population –  at 0.8 per cent – in 2013. It was virtually teetering on near extinction. It had also veered to the right – with UKIP going from now nowhere to 74,000 members.Labour in 2013 was also at a low before Corbyn won the leadership of 190,000 members.

So dire was the membership of political parties that political commentator Andrew Rawnsley in a comment is free article in The Guardian  could joke that as many people had declared their religion in the census as a Jedi knight  than belonged to each of the main two political parties.

After Corbyn’s leadership victory in the autumn of 2015 membership of the Labour Party had soared to 388,000. Under his leadership, despite a hostile press, it grew again to 544,000 by the end of last year. Since then it has risen to 552,000 in June. And on the eve of the party conference now stands at 569,500.

To do him credit the other person who revitalised an ailing party was Tim Farron. Fuelled by their Remain stance the  Liberal Democrat party moved from 61,000 members in December 2015  to 78,000 by the end of last year and to 102,000 by May this year. though this is dwarfed by Labour.

Between the two of them they have increased membership of  political parties to 1.7 per cent of the population – still small – but more than double the numbers in 2013.

The biggest losers are UKIP who have seem their active membership collapse in lone with their poor election performances. Membership of UKIP was around 74,000 in December 2015 but had fallen to 39,000 in July last year and fallen again to 34,000 by December. No new figures have been issued since.

Slightly surprising has been the demise of the Greens – though they seem to have started to turn this around.Their membership fell from 63,000 to 46,000 from 2015 to 2016 but the trend appears to have reversed itself – with an increase back to 55,500 in March this year.

Membership of the Scottish Nats has also stopped growing with it flatlining at around 118,000.

The real mystery is the Tories. They say their membership is 149,000. But this figure has never been updated since 2013 as no political party is obliged to publish its membership numbers in its annual report. Their shyness in producing any new membership figures since then – suggests that they may have suffered a decline in membership.

Certainly if they had any big increase in membership they would have immediately published details – to try and take the shine off Jeremy Corbyn’s extraordinary ability to attract new members in droves.

It has recently come out that the average age of Tory members is 72 which suggests that while there have been enormous increases in Left and Centre parties – the Tories could well be in terminal decline and turning  literally into the party of the living dead!