Fight to save the iconic Gay Hussar

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Gay Hussar restuarant- a fight to save it as it is due to close June 21. Pic Credit: wikipedia

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The news today  that one of London’s iconic restuarants, the Gay Hussar, is closing on June 21  will  be a catalyst for a fight back.

The sad decision was  announced by manager John Wrobel at the end of a very convivial lunch for Old Guardian hacks last week leading to today’s  excellent article in the Observer by  Rebecca Smithers.

Some less kind might say a fitting end for us retired or semi retired reprobates. But  as she writes this has been a regular venue for Left wing plots and meetings between journos and sources. I myself  confess that the odd confidential document might have been slipped into my hands before I left  there after dining on  herrings and soured cream and crispy duck with red cabbage.

The place was also the venue for Michael Foot’s 90th birthday, a superb collection of political cartoons loaned by Martin Rowson featuring the great and not so good and it is not unknown for right wing dissenters to dine there. My previous lunch there was with an independently minded Tory peer.

The wider issue which pushed its closure is globalisation and a fierce policy of raising business rates (rents automatically seem to follow) which is leading to the disappearance of many independent businesses  and their replacement by franchised national chains.

The planned closure of the Gay Hussar follows the disappearance of the Gran Paradiso in Pimlico and Luigis in  Aldwych. And it is not a problem confined to the capital.  My local town, Berkhamsted,  has lost the House of High Tea, a popular cafe which had a eye watering selection of brews for precisely the same reason- a tripling of the rent.

The decision by its conglomerate owners Corus Hotels  appears to have taken place in Kuala Lumpur pushed by the big jump in rent  prompted by the business rate  rise.

However all is far from lost.

John Goodman, the energetic chair of the Goulash Co-operative, is riding to the rescue.

Ina an email sent out to the members of the co-operative last night ( I declare an interest I am a small investor), he says:

” At last our moment has come! The day for which we have all been waiting has unexpectedly arrived.

“We learned a few days ago that Corus, the owners of the Gay Hussar, intend to close the restaurant some time in the near future, despite still having four years to run on the lease, which is held by Corus subsidiary The Restaurant Partnership (TRP). Our understanding is the long suffering and loyal staff, who do so much to make the Gay Hussar what it is, have already met with HR managers.

“As your directors, we immediately called an emergency meeting for Monday 14th May to discuss our action and have been working on it intensively since then.

We understand that Corus/TRP has been in discussion with the landlord and has reached an arrangement for early termination of the lease. This will give the landlord vacant possession and they will therefore be looking for a new tenant.

“Two of our number, including our legal and property advisers, met the landlord’s representatives on 16 May to discuss their intentions. They told us the building was not for sale but they expressed interest in offering us a new lease to continue the operation of the Gay Hussar, albeit in an upgraded form. In such circumstances there are a huge number of questions to be answered, involving finance and the potential operation of the restaurant.”

He ends with a rallying cry:

“In due course, and if our plans make progress in the way we hope, we will re-open the Goulash Co-operative for additional and fresh investment and investors as we anticipate a good deal of interest. We would ask you to alert friends and family to join in this great venture to keep the Gay Hussar and to develop further its enormous potential.”

Let battle commence!

 

 

 

 

 

How angry 50s women deprived of a pension can boot their MP out of a job

 

amber rudd

Home secretary Amber Rudd- most high profile Tory who could be unseated by angry people who have lost their pension for up to six years Pic credit: BBC

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Many angry  50s women  frustrated they can’t get a pension for up to six years – have the power at the ballot box to knock out the MPs who voted for the change. Since the next general election will be closely fought and many seats have narrow majorities they are literally – no pun intended -in poll position to effect change.

There isn’t a constituency in the United Kingdom that has less than 3000 of  these pensioners according to a breakdown helpfully provided by the House of Commons library.

And it is the current Theresa May government and her DUP allies  who are vigorously pursuing  higher and higher  retirement ages for future generations of pensioners that are the MPs most at risk. The Conservatives got a high proportion of votes from the over 60s at the last general election so  need these votes to win the next election.

The biggest voter power of this group  is in the Isle of Wight – where there are over 10,000 people affected by the raising of the pension age.The Tory MP, Bob Seely appears to have an impregnable 20,998 majority – but that would be halved if this group of people voted didn’t vote for him.. The main challenger there is Labour who came second and if people switched their vote to Labour it would become a highly marginal seat.

Much more vulnerable is home secretary  and ironically women and equalities minister Amber Rudd, whose Hastings and Rye seat, has 7400 people affected. She has a majority of 366 and Labour is the main challenger. There are 20 times more people hit by the change than her majority.

Another ultra marginal is Calder Valley where the Conservative MP Craig Whittaker,a Treasury whip, has a majority of 609 over Labour. There are 7000 people affected by the change in his constituency.

Similarly Corby where Tom Pursglove has a Conservative majority of 2,690 – it is more than outnumbered by 7,300 people affected. Both Milton Keynes seats (North and South) have small 2000+ Tory majorities but over 14,000 people affected between them.  And Scarborough where Conservative MP Robert Goodwill has a 3435 majority is dwarfed by 7,100 people affected.

The entire London borough of  Barnet  is another  hotspot.  Chipping Barnet, where Theresa Villiers, Conservative MP and ex minister, has a 353 majority has 6,200 people affected. Labour is again the main challenger. Next door Hendon which also has 6.200 people affected. Tory MP Matthew Offord has a majority of 1072 over Labour .In Finchley and Golders Green Tory Mike Freer has a majority of 1657 over Labour and there are 6000 people affected.

There are also a string of  safe Tory seats with between  7,000 and 7,800 pensioners who have lost out where the Tory majority can be severely dented or turned into marginals by switching to the highest challenger. Among these are  Beverley and Holderness ( Graham Stuart majority 14,042); Bridgewater and West Somerset ( Ian Liddell-Grainger majority 15,448); Croydon South ( Chris Philp majority 11,406); South Dorset ( Richard Drax majority 11,695), Wells (James Heappey, majority 7585 over liberal democrat) and Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk ( John Lamont, majority 11,060).

Among Labour seats with over 7,000 pensioners affected  include marginal Colne Valley (Thelma Walker majority 915) and  safe seats Croydon North and Brent North. The most marginal with over 7000  affected people is Rutherglen and Hamilton West held by Gerrard Killen with a majority of 265 over SNP.

DUP seats with the largest numbers of people affected ( 6500 and 6400 respectively)  are Upper Bann held by David Simpson with a 7,992 majority and Antrim North held by Ian Paisley Jnr with a 11,546 majority.

None of the Welsh Parliamentary seats had more than 7000 pensioners.

In addition there are those with lower numbers of people affected but who could influence the result. One is East Worthing and Shoreham which has 6,100 people affected. The MP is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on State Pension Inequality for Women pensioners group, Tim Loughton. He has a 5106 majority over Labour.

These  results suggest that Waspi  and BackTo60 supporters supporters have more influence than they realise. It is a question of energising it.

Check your own constituency in the table here.  It is an Excel document. Go the page and scroll until the bottom and click on constituency estimates.

 

 

 

 

 

Does the demise of UKIP offer a lifeline to embattled Tories?

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Will the Tories replace UKIP? Pic credit: Matt Dent; A mad man with a blog

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The performance of UKIP  in the polls has  been pretty disastrous for some time now. But if the party dies this weekend which other party is going to benefit from its demise.

After losing their only MP at the general election the party performed very badly at local level and is continuing to do so. And ironically Britain’s departure from the European Union will destroy its biggest base which is in Brussels. So by 2019 when we leave it is possible that UKIP will have completely disappeared from the political scene. It is very much a case  of don’t get what you wish for.

But the destruction of UKIP  at the moment appears to be more of a problem for Labour than the Tories. It is a considerable dilemma for Jeremy Corbyn on how he handles Brexit and suggests he, as well as Theresa May, is caught between a rock and a hard place over this issue.

Younger Labour Party voters – particularly in London and the South – are very strongly pro Remain – welcoming the diverse nature of the UK and enjoying the reality of visa free travel across most of Europe.

But Labour voters outside this group – in the North, Midlands, East Anglia and parts of Kent- are pro Brexit. And furthermore the former UKIP voters are obviously keen for Britain to leave.

So for Labour to get back these working class voters it has to be seen to be  both supporting Brexit and sympathising with Remain  at the same time. It also means the party – which has had success particularly at the last election – has highlighted domestic issues like the NHS, education, transport, housing and student loans rather than Brexit.

Labour’s dilemma is shown up in a scattering of local council by-elections across the country this month. Of course one should not put too much score on local election results – because of low polls and because simply that they are local.

But one trend has emerged where UKIP had a previous strong showing.in local areas and either doesn’t stand or puts up a candidate who is trashed by the electorate.

What appears to be happening  is that both Labour and the Tories are gaining votes – but the Tories are getting the lion’s share. This means that either Labour cannot win the seat or as in Bolton last night – they lose a seat to the Tories.

The results in Thanet in Kent –  a former UKIP stronghold where they got control of the council – is a case in point. It has seen the Tory and Labour vote go up – but has allowed the Tories to retain their seats with a bigger majority. Roughly two in three former UKIP voters seem to have switched to the Tories compared with one in three supporting Labour.

In Bolton where on a  nearly 30 per cent poll – the Tories took a seat off Labour – the result again showed  both the Tories and Labour gaining votes – but the Tory share of the vote went up 16.7 per cent to take a seat in a safe Labour Parliamentary constituency. Again UKIP had polled very well in the ward in the past.

Similarly in Newport Pagnell, a council seat on Milton Keynes council  where UKIP had got a big share of the vote last time – the Tory share jumped over 15 per cent – while Labour jumped just under 12 per cent. UKIP got  nearly a quarter of the votes last time but didn’t stand.

These actual votes may explain the closeness in the polls between Labour and the Tories – the Tory vote is simply being buoyed up by former Kippers. It may also explain why William Hague, the former Tory leader, would like to see UKIP wound up as the best chance for the party to stay in power.

It is also quite clever  of Boris Johnson to raise the issue that the NHS would get even more money after we leave the EU – it is aimed at those people keeping faith with Brexit believing the country will enter a Shangri La once we are out.

I personally don’t believe a word of it – but to my mind it does suggest to me that Labour should not take the next election for granted. They have to continue to work on these voters by offering a much fairer society. But it also leaves them with a very delicate balancing act over Brexit.

 

 

 

The top Tory power grab that turns their party members into mere pawns

Rob Semple and Theresa May

Rob Semple, chair of the Conservative Party Convention, and Theresa May – the ” Old Elizabethans” Pic credit: Twitter

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Update December 21: Since writing this piece I have discovered that the Conservative Home website, had already raised  objections to the power grab a few days after the convention. The link to their story is here .

 It is good news  for democrats everywhere that  some Conservatives are challenging this. For avoidance of any doubt my Conservative source and myself were unaware of this when I published the story.

While  the public and press have been absorbed in Tory battles over Brexit the top hierarchy in the Conservative Party have mounted an extraordinary power grab behind the scenes that strips their ordinary members of any meaningful say in the running of their organisation.

On November 25 the party held a convention in Birmingham attended by 100 invited people which rewrote sections of the party’s constitution. For policy nerds I attach the document sent out by Rob Semple, chairman of the Conservative Convention and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Board. I have also written about this in Tribune magazine.

Masquerading as ” small suggestions to bring us into the 21st Century “the convention agreed to rewrite the party constitution to remove references to constituencies altogether;limit the right of local associations to choose their own candidates and scrap the annual meeting of the Conservative Convention where people could listen and vote for candidates for top posts. Instead on line voting would be used for all top posts in the party.

The changes will go for final approval next March at a meeting of the Conservative Convention and will be put to MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee in Westminster the same month.

The Tories are hoping that by removing the word constituency from the constitution it will encourage people to form wider associations – which has had some success in Kent where six associations in the Thanet area have combined. But it also reflects the dire state of activists in some Tory constituency associations – where a number have now fallen to fewer than 50 members and operate from a P O Box address.

 The change in selection proposed in the constitution gives power to the candidates committee of the Board of the Party – whose members are appointed rather than elected. The new wording is:“The selection of all candidates, including Parliamentary, Police Commissioners, Elected Mayors and local government candidates shall follow a process in accordance with rules and guidance published from time to time by the Committee on Candidates of the Board of the Party.”

Not surprisingly the proposals have been  vehemently attacked  by Tory members who quite naturally believe if they join a political party – they should have some say in its policies and be able to choose their own candidates.

John Strafford, chairman of  Conservative Campaign for Democracy. said: “If these proposed changes are not voted down you might as well say The Conservative Party: The End”

 “And if MPs don’t take any action to stop these proposals they will find the only activists campaigning for them at the next general election will be themselves.”

 I did contact Conservative Central Office last week  for a comment but there has been no response and there does not appear to be a press release.

And in addition the review  into the failed General Election campaign by  Sir Eric Pickles, the former MP and chairman – probably about to be made a peer by Theresa May – contains one extraordinary overlooked proposal.

It suggests the Tory Party – which wasted £4.5 million on consultants to the failed campaign this year – could hand over lock, stock and barrel – the running of the next campaign to a private company.

This frankly is an extraordinary state of affairs in British politics for the 21st century.

Two parties – Labour and the Liberal Democrats – will fight the next general election with  the largest number of members and supporters  they have had for ages- reflecting a democratic revolution.

The top Labour Party people will be elected by the membership – there is an election for the National Executive Party going on now. So will the candidates.

But the  cash rich Conservative Party will basically turn itself into an unelected commercial organisation – where investors and private companies will decide the presentation of policies for the people.

The contrast could not be much starker. Labour will go into the next general election as a mass movement with a mass membership who can influence policy and decide on who stands for Parliament, the police and the local council.

The Tories go into the election as a small clique with their members little more than cannon fodder.

A libertarian academic suggested to me that the Tories had turned politics back four centuries – to the days when the Elizabethans and the Dutch Indies companies – used private investors to  create a joint enterprise to rule parts of the globe and general populus had no say. What an achievement in 2017.

 

 

 

 

Equal Pay,Unequal Misery: Unison and the Durham Teacher Assistants’ Dispute

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Durham teaching assistants at their protest meeting over the deal this week.

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The issue of equal pay for equal work is one of most enduring work scandals of our time. Women workers in particular lose out to men but it requires a lot of hard bargaining and money to tackle it.

The most dramatic current case is the long running Durham teacher assistants dispute involving over 2700 teaching assistants in Durham, mainly low paid women.

To implement equal pay Labour controlled Durham Council proposed cuts in  wages of up to £5000 for already low paid teacher assistants earning between £14,000 and £20,000 a year to bring it into line with other low paid workers they employed. The teaching assistants are the backbone of Durham’s schools, helping kids to read and understand basic numbers and when teachers fall sick deputising for them by taking classes.

The council and Unison, the union that is supposed to stand up for low paid workers, evidently were about to agree a deal that would worsen their pay and conditions when they faced a huge grassroots revolt from the teacher assistants themselves.

Feisty women workers called meeting, rallies, marched at the Durham gala and lobbied the sympathetic Labour leadership at last year’s Labour conference securing a meeting with John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor. They were even partly responsible for Labour’s poor performance in this May’s local elections which saw Liberal Democrats, Independents and Tories take seats from Labour.

Their strong action led Unison to change its mind and back them and give them some limited say in negotiating a better deal.

Last week in the middle of the Unison annual conference in Brighton the union claimed it had  negotiated a breakthrough.

UNISON Northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “Several months of tough talking later, a revised and improved offer has been proposed that will benefit the majority of teaching assistants.

“Strikes and relentless campaigning by dedicated teaching assistants, along with the support of the community, have been crucial in moving the council from its original position.

“Dismissing, rehiring and cutting the pay of so many education professionals would have risked many quitting their jobs. That would have had a huge impact in the classroom.

“Both sides have worked hard to reach agreement over the past few months. The union is absolutely committed to continuing to work with the council to secure the best possible outcome for everyone.”

However within days the promised deal which is based on a complicated regrading started to unravel once the 2700 teacher assistants got individual letters with new terms of employment.

This week a big meeting was called in Durham and the grassroots again began to revolt.

Megan Charlton, one of the leaders of the group, wrote in a blog that she will not be accepting the deal – even though she will get a pay rise in two years time.

She said: “472 Teaching Assistants – 22% of the workforce – will still be losing money. Many are losing £1200 a year, some are losing less, some are losing more (several on our facebook group are still facing losses of £4,000 and that’s AFTER they agree to the extra hours).

“We now have a situation where the vast majority of Teaching Assistants are required to teach at least one session a week. Surely teaching should be an ‘enhanced’ requirement, an ‘enhanced’ skill, not one you would expect from the majority of Teaching Assistants who came into the profession to do exactly that: to assist teaching, not to teach.”

She said if it had been just a ” few anomalies ” she might have accepted the deal but clearly it wasn’t. It will now go out to a ballot.

Durham County Council responded to my inquiry:

The council’s corporate director of resources, John Hewitt, said: “Throughout this process the issue for the council has been the risk of equal pay claims caused by the current teaching assistants terms and conditions.

“To mitigate the equal pay risk, and to ensure that assistant’s job descriptions and grades are appropriate for the work they do, we have  worked really hard with trade unions, teaching assistants and head teachers on a fundamental review of TAs responsibilities and roles.”

“The outcome of that work is that, if accepted, the vast majority of teaching assistants will see an improvement in their financial position after the compensation period.”

To its credit Durham County Council has withdrawn its threat to sack and rehire all the teaching assistants on inferior terms. The problem the teacher assistants have is with their union which they believe rushed into the deal to announce it at its annual conference without checking the full terms.

I wanted to put this to Clare Williams, the regional secretary, and a supporter of ” Team Dave” during the last election but she declined to come back to me.

But it seems to me that  Unison has been too ready to accept this deal and has sold out some of its low paid members without pressing for  further improvements. For them it is  a real loss of cash from a low salary . An equal pay deal has resulted in unequal misery for a fifth of the workforce. And it has been negotiated by a well paid official earning at least three times the money of the lowest paid teaching assistant.

 

Revealed: Thousands of Britain’s top bankers become Euro millionaires while workers pay clipped to 1 per cent

HSBC pic credit BBC

HSBC. Five senior executives due to share £33.4m Pic credit: BBC

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The day  after the general election the House of Commons library released a flood of papers which had been held up because of  purdah rules until after the result was known.

One of the most revealing papers was one on Banking Executives’ Renumeration in the UK. It drew on two sources – Britain’s submission  ( required by EU rules ) to the European Banking Authority and British sources such as company reports and details from the banks themselves about long term incentives for senior executives.

The facts revealed in the annexes to this report confirm what a lot of people have suspected but have not always been able to prove. There is-a widening gulf between the top and the bottom that has been going on during the fiercest period of austerity which has seen real wages for million falling. If John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, and Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, had access to this information during the election it could have been dynamite.

Two facts are extraordinary. This boom in higher executive pay came under the coalition between 2012 and 2015 when David Cameron and George Osborne were actively pursing wage freezes and minimal wage rises in the public sector.

Second it is the scale of it – it is not a handful of  new bankers becoming Euro millionaires, it is thousands of them.

And for the very, very top executives at five of our biggest retail banks it is untold riches if they meet performance targets.

The wider picture only came out because of a  European Commission directive to collect figures from all 28 EU members on how many bankers are earning over 1 million euro (£884,300 at current rates) a year. At the time the Euro would have been worth less – but even so it is a large sum.

Britain will no longer have to supply this when we leave the EU.

The figures show startling increases in senior staff employed by the banking industry falling into this bracket between 2012 and 2015 across nearly all sectors. Altogether the number of higher earners has risen nearly 300 per cent over this period, from 1272 to 3551.

Among the bigger rises are those in investment banking where the numbers earning this figure and more has risen from 947 to 2146. In asset management the numbers rose from 94 to 415 while those in high street banks rose from 52 to 105.

The average salary among the 2146 top earners in investment banking was 2,021,000 euro or over £1.78 million a year. Among the 415 people in asset management it was even higher at 2,201,000 euro or £1.946 million a year. In retail banking the 105 people averaged a little less at 1,789.000 euro or £1.582 million each a year.

Equally damning is a survey taken from five banks in Britain – HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, Santander and the state owned RBS.

It looked at the money the five to eight top executives could make. At Lloyds 8 people share £24.9 a million a year between them. The figure for Barclays was £27.1m and at HSBC the top five people shared a whopping £33.4m.

Figures for the state owned RBS are lower at £11.35m while at Santander it was £10.6m.

As already known the chairmen and chief executives also get good pay packets worth millions.

What this says is that the coalition of David Cameron and Nick Clegg were happy to preside over this boom and impose severe austerity, and job cuts to pay for the mess the very same bankers created  by triggering the  crash in 2008.

As the song goes : “It’s the poor what gets the blame, It’s the rich what gets the pleasure, Isn’t it a blooming shame? ”

For not much longer I suspect given the current climate.

I have written about this in Tribune magazine. The House of Commons library report is  here for those who wish to read it

 

 

 

 

Pollsters to lose tomorrow’s General Election

Jeremy Corbyn Pic Credit BBC

Jeremy Corbyn Pic credit:BBC

Theresa May

Theresa May Pic credit:BBC

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Today’s last minute polls show the volatility of the electorate and why it is has been such a difficult election to call. It started as a guaranteed ” slam dunk ” win for Theresa May with a  lead over Labour of 24 points. Then the prediction was that with an unpopular Labour leader who was not supported by many of his MPs would help Theresa May increase her lead as Opposition parties tend to lose their momentum during a general election and see their  position decline. Hence the initial predictions that Labour already 101 seats behind the Tories could lose another 70 seats or even more giving her a majority of 150 to 200. Instead every poll has pointed to a narrowing of the lead, Jeremy Corbyn, has surprised everyone by leading a very energetic campaign on a left wing manifesto and even passionate Tory supporters admit their own campaign has been a mess. Theresa May has not appeared as the self confident stable leader  unafraid of debate. She has positively avoided it.

Then there is an expected swing to the centre  which should accompany Labour moving Left..  Based on this  Tim Farron  hinted at first that he could replace Labour as  leader of the official Opposition on the back of the 48 per cent Remain vote. Instead – and all the polls  are agreed – the Lib Dems look like making little progress and could be pushed back. The electorate has become  totally polarised – just like during the referendum.

And as for UKIP who once boasted that they would replace Labour in the North as the main opposition to the Tories – their collapse has been phenomenal – they are unlikely to have any representation in Parliament and  have lost seats hand over fist in the local elections.

But can we trust the pollsters today? Just as in 2015 when the majority got a hung Parliament wrong – and the one poll that predicted a Tory victory over egged the size of it.

Unlike last time there is no consensus – with each poll coming to wildly different conclusions.

They range from a Tory majority of 124 and 100 – with the Lib Dems also losing every seat in England including their leader Tim Farron and former leader Nick Clegg ( to Labour) to Labour gaining seats and the Tories short of majority in Parliament. In the middle are Lord Ashcroft -Tory  majority of 64 – and Nowcast with Labour losing 13 seats and the Tories gaining 23.  The latter last two give Theresa May full command of the House of Commons.

Much will depend on who will vote. The young are pro Corbyn so if they turn out in substantial numbers – the result will be good for Labour. But pollsters don’t expect them to vote – and the elderly – despite the row over paying for social care  to rush or even limp to the polls to ensure a big Tory victory.

Mind you if people keep telling the young they won’t vote – they may well be bloody minded enough to turn out to defy expectations.

Whatever happens it will be bad news for pollsters. Because someone is going to get the result awfully wrong – they can’t all be right.