Shropshire North by-election
17 December 2021
As a long-time member of the Liberal Democrats naturally I am delighted by Helen Morgan’s stunning result in the Shropshire North by-election. However, my joy is not unconfined.
Yesterday’s drubbing of the Conservatives does not immediately get rid of Johnson and his appalling government. We are still stuck with them – at least for the moment.
On the bright side, however, there will be people in Shropshire North – and beyond – who for the first time will have looked at Liberal values, liked what they saw and in future will buy into those values. In short, there will have been conversions.
Two other cheerful prospects present themselves. First, voters are becoming more astute and learning to vote tactically. Yesterday Labour voters in Shropshire had spotted that the Liberal Democrats had a real chance of winning the seat, and “lent” their votes to get Helen Morgan over the line. When the next general election comes wider tactical voting gives us a chance of getting rid of the Tories.
Second, it is clear that long-term Conservative voters with a sense of decency could no longer bring themselves to vote for this government’s candidate and abstained. So ‘decency’ is starting to win through.
They laugh at us!
9 December 2021
This time last year, the rules for you and me were ‘You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity’.
This time last year, many of us were unable to spend the festive period with our loved ones. People had loved ones in hospital, unable to visit them and for many, never saw them, or held their hand again.
We all listened and obeyed the rules, as the government instructed us to do so.
Meanwhile, the rule enforcers disregarded these rules, jovially quaffed on the finest food and fervently guzzled on top quality wine, laughing at you and me.
The lies, the arrogance, the disdain for empathy and the continual disregard for the people they rule, continues day-by-day and as they have a huge majority, they will continue do whatever they want.
Now is not the time for tamely seeking apologies and move on to the next corrupt story. This government and those at the top need to be taken to task, the spotlight blinding them and more and more people opening their eyes to what we have in power.
They laugh at us!
Skipton & Ripon Labour Party representative
Nadine Dorries and media censorship
23 November 2021
Culture Minister Nadine Dorries is using her position to push crude attempts at media censorship to try and stem the widespread criticism of the government’s deep-seated sleaze.
Her attacks on the “left wing media”, seeking to muzzle criticism, ignores the fact that after the scathing attack on Sleaze and the Owen Paterson fiasco by the Daily Mail, it was its editor, Geordie Grieg, who was sidelined from that job, presumably after pressure from Boris Johnson.
So the independence of all media is under threat. Threatening phone calls to editors and media owners is the thin skinned Boris Johnson’s standard practice.
So it is being criticised at all, not just by the left wing media, that this government finds objectionable. So much for freedom of speech!
Nadine Dorries regrettably does seem to have a real chip on her shoulder about the media. Some reviewers have been dismissive of her “clogs and shawl” genre novels, but unfortunately for her it was not just the left wing media who were the most dismissive.
Her use of social media to attack detractors led one Daily Telegraph writer to remark, “it makes it hard for us to respect parliamentarians in general. They should be like us, of course, but at our best. She comes out of this looking very thin skinned and at best eccentric”. She had previously used social media to compared respected radio journalist, James O’Brien, to a hate preacher and called for him to be fired!
Reviews in the Irish Times of her books complain of lazy Irish stereotypes and quote a noted author as saying, “Calling Nadine Dorries an author is like saying cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer was a chef”.
Ms Dorries attacks on social media abuse are undermined by her own record online. As one political observer remarked, “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Unfortunately for … Nadine Dorries, she seems to be trapped in a conservatory with a trebuchet”.
Boris Johnson’s judgement in appointing her as Culture Secretary does seem questionable yet again.
HS2 will help ease congestion
22 November 2021
Much as I share Andy Brown’s disappointment at and condemnation of the government’s decision to scrap the eastern leg of the HS2 rail link (‘Northern outhouse rail project replaces levelling up with levelling down’ 18 Nov. 2021) I simply cannot agree with him that the southern leg of HS2 is “expensive and wasteful”.
The southern end of the West Coast main line suffers badly from congestion, with latent demand for extra freight and local stopping services that cannot be met because of non-stop long-distance express services which require the route ahead to be kept clear.
A similar argument applies to other routes such as Manchester to Stoke-on-Trent where intermediate stations are only served by one train per hour in each direction to make way for two long-distance express services per hour calling only at Stockport, Macclesfield and Stoke-on-Trent. Tough luck if you live in Bramhall, Poynton or Prestbury. A third express from Manchester to Euston has to operate ‘the long way round’ via Crewe due to lack of capacity on the more direct Stoke route.
Building HS2 and diverting these services onto the new line can free up capacity to run more local services and solve this problem. Where I wholeheartedly agree with Andy is that a very similar analysis can be performed on the Leeds-Sheffield/Doncaster route and indeed, there is only one local train per hour from Leeds to each of Doncaster and Sheffield via Wakefield Westgate. The eastern leg of HS2 would have addressed this problem and allowed for more services to call at intermediate stations such as Outwood, Sandal and Agbrigg, and Fitzwilliam. This is the true genius of HS2 – capacity, not speed. Including the Leeds leg would have made HS2 as a network three railways for the price of one, relieving the southern ends of the East Coast, West Coast and Midland main lines.
I share Andy’s frustration that the costs of HS2 keep rising, yet this is not entirely HS2’s fault. Some aspects such as underestimating the cost of acquiring property can certainly be laid at the door of HS2 Ltd. Others such as the Treasury’s assumption that there would be 20% efficiency savings in the construction industry or loading the long-term risk of structures such as embankments onto the private sector with consequent “gold plating” effects cannot be.
I completely agree with Andy’s suggestion that “missing links” in our rail network should be reinstated, such as Skipton-Colne to address his point about journey times to Manchester from north of Bradford and the Aire Valley. But it should not be a case of either/or. We unfortunately have a government that is determined, for the sake of its own political ideology, to treat the nation’s finances as if it were a household, and obsesses over the national debt when this is in no way necessary. This mitigates against the kind of investment in public transport that I wholeheartedly agree the North badly needs.
Levelling up or grinding down?
19 November 2021
As it is the season for screeching U-turns, perhaps our member of parliament would like to take the opportunity afforded by his government’s reversal of policies on sewage pollution and corrupt MPs to execute his own handbrake turn on universal credit.
When Mr Hollinrake gave his impassioned justification of the righteousness of taking £20 from the poorest families, he may have been banking on Rishi Sunak to restore social justice through his autumn budget. It was rumoured that he would, in the interests of levelling up. But when the dust settled on the budget, after the jolly scenes in parliament and Tory celebrations in Westminster pubs, it was revealed that the rescue was a sham.
Respected independent researchers at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Resolution Foundation calculated the net effect of inflation and all the government changes for those on universal credit. They found that of those in work, three quarters were still worse off than if universal credit had not been cut. Those not in work were not helped at all by Mr Sunak’s jiggery-pokery and remain £1,040 worse off each year.
In Thirsk and Malton therefore, the 3,500 households on universal credit and not in work will now take the full £1,040 hit to their annual income. Some 2,250 of those households in work but on universal credit due to low pay will also be worse off.
The government advice seems to be, don’t ask us to run the economy fairly, get a better job. A variant of blame the victim. Norman Tebbit will be proud.
Now that the figures have been clarified, Mr Hollinrake has a chance to point to the real problem. Universal credit is simply set too low to prevent grinding poverty, covid or no covid. So what is he for? Levelling up or grinding down? I think the solution is to raise benefits to adequate levels comparable with equivalent Western European democracies. What does he think?
HS2: the axing of the Eastern leg
16 November 2021
HS2 was the great project supposed to close the North-South Gap, to bring the North within commuting distance of the Westminster elite. It was supposed to cost £42bn, to get people out of planes and cars, and be a green answer to the problems of the overcrowded 21st century railways.
Except none of that was true. It was a colossal fraud on taxpayers and the public.
The Eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds (the justification for the entire business case) is to be axed. The cost of the project has ballooned to £150bn. And the millions of tonnes of steel and concrete and energy needs of high-speed trains make this a huge carbon carbuncle. Covid has led to people working from home or in their own communities; and the importance of the ancient woods HS2 will destroy is more crucial now in a country pledged to end deforestation.
For the communities of Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire, the axing of the M18 Eastern route, which was rushed through in 2016, is a victory for everything anti-HS2 campaigners have said over the last five years. But it will be a bittersweet victory for the hundreds of families forced from their homes in Mexborough and along the line. All the pain for no reason whatsoever. Will people be compensated for being forced from their communities?
A sting in the tail remains for some households, as the remnants of HS2 persist. In Crofton, a high-speed 250mph drag track from Leeds to Clayton will be forced through the village for no reason, as the trains will chug their way to Sheffield and onto Birmingham at 60mph. This Heath Robinson hotchpotch of a plan to axe parts of the track but leave the damage without any of the original benefits, is the worst of all worlds. The pro-HS2 lobby will be dismayed, and communities have been blighted for no reason, except to save face in Westminster.
Things didn’t have to be like this; communities could have been listened to. Investment in 21st century green alternatives would have added more to the economy and wellbeing of the North than a 20th-century bullet train running on concrete and steel through forests and communities, benefitting only big cities at the expense of left-behind towns and villages, like a modern day Hunger Games train creating harm and destruction in its wake.
How about £100bn for Northern households to switch from gas and diesel to renewables and electric cars; £100bn for tree planting, universities, high-speed internet, and better, cheaper, local road, rail and buses for all; or £100bn for hospital beds, care workers and doctors?
But it’s the beginning of the end for the carbon carbuncle. Good riddance. God speed.
Chair of Crofton Against HS2
Taxation and student loans to hit those least able to afford them
10 November 2021
Under plans recently announced by the government, most of us will pay more tax from April 2022, but younger graduates – recently qualified nurses for example – will be particularly hard hit. Like the rest of us they will pay more in national insurance, but added to that the government wants to lower the salary threshold at which they start to repay their student loan, in effect changing the agreement they had signed up to when they took out the loan.
Currently, repayment starts when earnings reach £27,295 per year; the proposal is to lower that threshold to £21,000. That would mean that a recently qualified nurse would need to pay back as much as £400 extra each year from next year on student loan repayments alone, and it could take them the rest of their working life to clear the debt.
Remember, the government only awarded them a 3 percent pay rise this year – the increased loan payments and the increase in national insurance mean that increase will be lost at a time when living costs are spiralling.
The proposed changes are neither progressive nor fair. They hit the youngest and least able to pay in our society while the highest earners – or those able to draw upon the bank of mum and dad to clear their student loan – will be debt free in just a few years, having paid back far less. When the opportunity arises, I urge our MP Mr Kevin Hollinrake to support his hard-working constituents and oppose these unfair proposals.
Professor Graham Scott
Conflation or obfuscation?
5 November 2021
I first came across the word ‘conflated’ when the then education secretary Gavin Williamson said in a short statement that he made a “genuine mistake” and “conflated the issues” of laptops and school meal campaigns that had both come up during the interview, adding that he had “huge respect” for Rashford and Itoje’s “effective and inspiring campaigns”.
Conflating issues may, to an extent, be understandable. But conflating individuals, especially high-profile individuals who had run effective campaigns against government policy in the field of education for which he was responsible, is much less forgivable in my opinion.
The word has resurfaced (perhaps it is too useful for those involved in writing political spin). I have seen it used three or four times in the last two days.
The current education secretary Nadhim Zahawi admitted he had not read the detail of a standards report into Conservative MP Owen Paterson, but said he takes “collective responsibility” for the government having “conflated” his case with the desire for wider reforms.
Just who is responsible for the three-line whip on the parliamentary vote on the issue, Mr Zahawi? Despite not reading the report into Mr Paterson’s conduct, Mr Zahawi still voted for the amendment which saved him from suspension.
I too find myself susceptible to ‘conflation’. I have conflated the issues of parliamentary standards and the actions and desires of a government too anxious to protect one of its own.
“Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into!”
4 September 2021
Please find attached letter for inclusion in your paper, from the Thirsk and Malton Labour Party:
Child Poverty in Thirsk & Malton Constituency
14 July 2021
Yes, Kevin Hollinrake it’s happening on your watch, children in your constituency are being left behind.
Despite national headlines that ‘..no child will be left behind..’ government data published last month shows that child poverty (using both absolute and relative measures) in our constituency continues to rise.
Between 2014-2020, child poverty rates increased from 12.5% to 16.3% (relative poverty) and absolute poverty rose from 12.8% to 13.7%. That means 365 more children in Thirsk & Malton are living in absolute poverty since Kevin Hollinrake became their MP.
The figures hide the reality for over 11,000 children and their families, who have seen support for those eligible for free school meals, Pupil Premium and ‘Catch Up’ funding under threat. The government’s response to widespread pressure from campaigners, such as Marcus Rashford, to feed eligible children during school holidays, was to provide funding of just £1.25 per hour linked to involvement in holiday club provision.
Most recently, schools have seen a reduction in Pupil Premium funding (worth approximately £1000 per eligible pupil, for example those on Free School Meals) after the government changed the way eligibility was calculated. In North Yorkshire, over 800 of the most vulnerable pupils will miss out this year because of this change.
The most recent child poverty figures do not show the picture during the pandemic, but we know that some of the our most vulnerable children will also lose out as the recently announced education Catch Up premium “does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge”.
If Kevin Hollinrake is serious about getting a better deal for these children, can he tell us his plans to address child poverty in his constituency?