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The Conservative Cash Carousel and Socialism for the Rich

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/11/2021 - 4:32am in

The Conservative Cash Carousel & Socialism for the Rich

Sam Bright and Peter Jukes analyse what looks to be a new economic and ideological form of Conservatism, far removed from its former free market foundations


“There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers’ money,” Margaret Thatcher famously remarked at the 1983 Conservative Party Conference. 

Inspired by the founders of modern neo-liberalism, the likes of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, Thatcher’s principle that public spending ‘crowds out’ or diminishes private investment has underpinned Conservative Party ideology for four decades.

“No one can buck the market,” Thatcher would also say, and the idea that the ‘market knows best’ goes back even further – to the 19th Century arguments about the role ‘free trade’ versus protective tariffs over the Corn Law tax. Tariffs to prevent cheaper foreign imports protected British landowners, but caused famine in Ireland – and a split between Conservatives.

Since then, the Conservative Party’s main attack on its left-leaning opponents has been their apparent failure to carefully manage public finances and the dire effects of intervention in the market. Labour governments of the past have overspent, so the narrative went, over-stretching the public purse and risking the nation’s economic health with endless cycles of ‘boom and bust’. Public ownership or tight regulation risked causing inefficiencies by ‘picking winners’. The lack of competition would ultimately lead to a commissar culture of cronies living off the public purse, they said.

Now all is changed, changed utterly, in Boris Johnson’s new Conservative Party. A terrible new ‘socialism for the rich’ has been born, whereby revenues flow from the Government into the bank accounts of Conservative allies and donors, while the party receives a large chunk of the proceeds. 

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Socialism for the Rich

Consider this: Byline Times and The Citizens have calculated that at least £3 billion in public contracts have been awarded to Conservative donors and associates during the pandemic – with many of these deals awarded in the haste of emergency procurement procedures, without a normal competitive bidding process.

Subsequently, we have shown, these firms (the ones that have filed their annual accounts) have amassed additional profits worth more than £120 million – with £600,000 of this cash flowing into the Conservative Party’s coffers through new party donations. 

This is the Conservative cash carousel: the enrichment of party benefactors through the public purse, enhancing their generosity and eventually bolstering the party’s war chest. 

It’s impossible to know whether the Government actively used the pandemic as a protective screen, justifying the distribution of public money to its political allies. After all, the minutes of the meetings between companies and ministers held at the outset of the pandemic have either mysteriously disappeared, or are being withheld from public view. 

The Government has admitted that it used “informal arrangements” in selecting firms for deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds and that ministers relied on “a very large network of contacts”. We also know that donating to the Conservative Party bequests access to senior ministers, allowing party patrons to develop the relationships that proved to be highly lucrative when procurement rules were eschewed in favour of secretive, backroom deals. 

A March Towards Oligarchy

The pandemic has exposed the Conservative Party’s onward march to oligarchy – a process that, in turn, is infecting British democracy. Boris Johnson successively attempted to stifle a report into Russia’s political influence in the UK – which, when finally released, warned that “[UK] lawyers, accountants, estate agents and PR professionals have played a role, wittingly or unwittingly, in the extension of Russian influence” by providing services to rich Russians with ties to Putin.

Since Johnson came to power in July 2019, £2 million has been donated to the Conservative Party by individuals with Russian links. These donations have been rewarded with access to senior ministers, as democracy is once again flogged to the highest bidder.

This is a facet of Johnson’s leadership, but one that has now seeped into the fabric of the Conservative Party. In his single-minded, narcissistic pursuit of power, the Prime Minister is not afraid of creating casualties – even if the body count includes his own party and the basic tenets of British democracy. 


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Seeing the opportunity to profit from Johnson’s moral deficit, various predators have circled around the Prime Minister – harvesting the spoils as he ploughs a path of destruction. Boris Johnson governs primarily in the interests of Boris Johnson, and those who have propelled his quest for power. The result – sustained by an 80-seat parliamentary majority – is a slide towards authoritarianism and oligarchy, whereby the actions of the state are orientated towards the benefit of one man and his allies. 

But these instincts are not solely confined to Johnson and his cabal. Over the course of the last five years, since the EU Referendum, the Conservative Party has been remade in Johnson’s image. The ‘One Nation’ conservative ideals of Benjamin Disraeli are no longer welcome in a party that preaches the gospel of Brexit purity. In September 2019, Johnson removed the whip from 21 Conservative MPs who dared to defy his elevation of Brexit above democracy, thus purging the party of its moderate flank. The Conservative benches are now populated by the foot-soldiers of Johnson’s personal war, unmoored from morality, well educated in the political benefits of deceit and fabrication. 

A Closed Society

There are two secondary questions: whether the nation cares about this democratic coup, premised on corruption and oligarchy; and, if so, whether the opposition can take advantage. 

On the first question, our polling suggests that people do care – 58% of people surveyed by Omnisis in early November said they believe that Boris Johnson’s Government is corrupt, while only 16% of people disagreed. 

This provides fertile territory for the Labour Party, which has belatedly realised the scale and significance of the cronyism perpetuated by this Government – today announcing new proposals to reform parliamentary systems, to clamp down on ‘sleaze’.

In this regard, Keir Starmer’s party may take some advice from its former leader, Harold Wilson. Attempting to wrest control away from the Conservative Party at the 1964 General Election, for the first time in 13 years, he observed that:

“Over the British people lies the chill frost of Tory leadership. They freeze initiative and petrify imagination. They cling to privilege and power for the few, shutting the gates on the many. Tory society is a closed society, in which birth and wealth have priority, in which the master and the servant, landlord and tenant mentality is predominant. The Tories have proven that they are incapable of mobilising Britain to take advantage of the scientific breakthrough.”

Whether you agree with Wilson’s sentiments or not, it is undoubtedly and increasingly apparent that the country is no longer governed (if it ever was) by good chaps motivated by a commitment to altruistic public service and the prudent management of state finances. Instead, as Wilson says, a “closed society” has been created, which radiates prosperity only to those with wealth and political influence. This presents a danger to Britain, and an opportunity for the opposition. 




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Keir Starmer has Promised to Clean Up British Politics – Can We Trust Him?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/11/2021 - 4:16am in

Keir Starmer has Promised to Clean Up British PoliticsCan We Trust Him?

Boris Johnson’s Government is engulfed in corruption scandals – but Labour is struggling to convince the public it can fix the problem, reports Adam Bienkov


Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner set out on Monday morning why she believes her party is best-placed to clean up British politics, following the wave of corruption scandals engulfing Boris Johnson’s Government.

“Corruption is happening in plain sight and is rife throughout this Government,” Rayner told an event in central London attended by Byline Times.

She pointed to the VIP lane for Coronavirus PPE contracts, the Randox lobbying scandal, and the swathe of peerages handed to Conservative donors, and promised that a Labour Government would restore “the precious principles of public life” abandoned by Johnson.

She set out plans for a new independent committee to investigate corruption in Government, free of interference from Downing Street, and pledged to open up government contracts to greater scrutiny.

Rayner’s commitment to tackling the problem appears to be genuine, and Labour’s plan to make corruption the big dividing line in public does appear to have had some success.

Johnson’s own poll ratings have slumped in the wake of the Owen Paterson affair. But, while the scandal has clearly hit public support for Johnson and his party, there is little sign that this is yet translating into a surge in support for Labour.

And while Rayner made a powerful case for wanting to clean up politics, she found it harder to explain why the public should trust Labour to do the cleaning up.

Asked by Byline Times why the public should trust the party to keep its promises, given Keir Starmer’s own recently abandoned campaign pledges, Rayner said that there was a clear difference between the two men.

“Keir has a proven track record of making sure that standards of public life are maintained”, she insisted, adding that “when you compare that to Boris Johnson… [who] he has clearly disregarded the rules, rather than strengthened them… there is a clear choice between the two.”

On Starmer’s own pledges, she added: “The message we will put to the public at the election we will set out our promises, but I won’t take any lessons from the Conservatives on keeping promises.”

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However, Rayner’s attempt to focus public attention on Government corruption came to a screeching halt after reports emerged during her speech that Starmer had just launched a reshuffle of his frontbench.

Confirmation of the reshuffle came from the Labour MP Cat Smith who announced on Twitter, while Rayner was speaking, that she had stood down from her position as a Shadow Minister.

As a result, most of the questions from journalists at the event focused on Labour infighting rather than its plan to clean up politics. 

Allies of Rayner were privately fuming about Starmer’s apparent attempt to undermine her speech and overshadow the issue they believe could help oust Johnson as Prime Minister.

“I’m not aware of the details of the reshuffle,” Rayner told journalists after her speech. “I’ve been concentrating on the job that I’ve been doing and I think that’s really important.

She added that Labour must focus on showing that it is “a Government in waiting”.

Days like today will not help Labour make that case.

The wider danger for the Opposition is that the focus on corruption will simply play into a longer-running public sense that all politicians are simply in it for themselves and hinder any attempt by Labour to unite the country around a positive alternative agenda for the country.

Boris Johnson is wise to this and has repeatedly sought to highlight Keir Starmer’s own previous links to the law firm Mishcon de Reya, in a clear attempt to muddy the waters between the two leaders on the issue of second jobs.

Of course, all governments and prospective governments promise to clean up politics, and it is up to the public to decide whether they can be trusted to do it.

So far, Johnson has repeatedly shown that he cannot be trusted. The challenge for Starmer is to show that, unlike the Prime Minister, he can be taken at his word.




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Why Did Labour Lose the Military?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/10/2021 - 10:58pm in

Why did Labour Lose the Military?

In 1945, the armed forces vote helped sweep Labour to power – but in modern politics the military vote is more likely to go to the right


An investigation by the Byline Intelligence Team has revealed the extent to which army veterans move from the frontline to the Conservative front bench, with 63 Conservative MPs having a military background. Garrison towns tend to return Conservative MPs – although the recently-created Plymouth Sutton and Devonport bucked the trend by electing Labour’s Luke Pollard in 2017 and 2019.

This voting pattern persists despite the Conservative Party’s austerity measures related to the armed forces. Earlier this year, the Government announced plans to cut the number of soldiers in the army to 72,500 by 2025, with the target for the number of fully trained people in the Army reduced from 82,040.

The cut was defended as allowing the forces to focus on drones and electronic warfare. A Labour motion to reverse the cut was defeated. 

One might think that such diminishing investment, including real term pay cuts to personnel, would weaken military support for the Conservative Party, but it has not.

This raises the question: why does the Labour Party fail to appeal to armed forces voters? 

Party and Security

The Jeremy Corbyn years dented Labour’s reputation when it came to the military. Much of his popularity came from a youthful, galvanised left-wing vote traditionally opposed to military intervention and who had felt let down by the Iraq War. These were people who were disillusioned with ‘politics as usual‘ and saw in the Islington MP a chance to reject the policies of intervention that came to define Tony Blair’s tenure.

But, while Corbyn’s staunch opposition to military intervention won him fans among the anti-capitalist left, those who did not like Corbyn saw him as unpatriotic and weak – even when the Labour Party pledge to the armed forces sought to give military personnel a pay rise after a real terms cut, as well as better housing and childcare support. This was demonstrated by an almost obsessive focus by the elements of the media on whether he would launch a nuclear weapon – associating strength with destruction.  

Corbyn’s handling of the poisoning with nerve agent of former intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury by Russian agents also drew criticism that his party was not trustworthy on national security. 

He and his spokesman, Seumus Milne, suggested that the sample of novichok used in the incident should be sent to Russia for testing. James Mills – the then Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s spin doctor – responded by kicking a bin and shouting “that’s f*****g going to cost us the election!” 

However, not all military personnel disliked Corbyn and his stance on intervention. Gareth Derrick, a former Royal Navy Commodore who stood for Labour in the 2019 General Election, and told the New Statesman that there was “an understanding that the country is heading in a dangerous direction, and we have to do something about it”.

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Post-War Politics

Dominance of the right in terms of military support and representation has not always been the case.

In 1945, when Labour won a landslide victory, the military vote helped it to win. Garrison towns such as Norfolk South West returned a Labour MP.

After six long years of war, working class military personnel were desperate for change. They wanted to return home to a better civilian life and they overwhelmingly voted for the Labour Party on the promise that their sacrifice would be rewarded by housing, health and education. This was captured in the film They Came To A City, in which working class veteran Joe Dinmore argues for a more equal and fairer future, while his posher peers rail against change. 

Part of the shift away from military support could be related to the other big driver of Labour votes: the trade unions. Throughout the 20th Century, Labour’s heartlands were the unionised workers of industry and their families. Unions were where political organising took place and where Labour won its funding. 

But military personnel are excluded from joining unions, meaning that they have often been excluded from Labour’s base and ideological framing. Further, many of the industrial battles of the latter half of the century pitted unions against military and state power or violence. In 2014, it was revealed that, 30 years earlier, Margaret Thatcher made preparations to deploy troops against striking miners. 

Right-Wing Alliances

Having helped bring the left into power in 1945, in part for housing and health but in part for its internationalist and anti-war outlook, it is now more common to associate veterans with right-wing politics. 

This is clear both in the prevalence of former military personnel on the Conservative benches and through organisations such as ‘Veterans for Britain’, a pro-Brexit group linked to the Leave.EU campaign. Its founder Arron Banks’ firm ‘Better for the Country Ltd’ has donated £50,000 to it.

An investigation by openDemocracy found that Veteran for Britain’s executive director, Lee Rotherham, was the director of special projects at Vote Leave, a former army reservist and linked to right-wing think tanks the TaxPayers’ Alliance (founded by Vote Leave’s Matthew Elliott) and the Freedom Association. On its advisory board was former head of the British army from 1994-1997 and former Chief of Defence Staff between 1997-2001, Field Marshal Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank. He also invested in Palantir, the firm set up by the controversial Peter Thiel which has won numerous contracts with the Ministry of Defence

Joining Lord Guthrie on the advisory board was the celebrity militarist Colonel Richard Kemp, a former member of Cobra, the government’s top-level crisis management committee. Kemp commanded British forces during the Afghanistan campaign and had a history of tweeting “support for a broad range of causes popular with the alt-right,” according to openDemocracy. 

Other members of the advisory board included Lieutenant General Jonathan Riley; Major General Tim Cross; and Rear Admiral Roger Lane-Nott, who shared a tweet saying that the European Union caused wars. 

Labour’s ambiguous position on Brexit could therefore have harmed its chances in winning military voters during the post-referendum elections, with organisations such as Veterans for Britain urging fellow service personnel to vote leave. 

The Leave-supporters and Conservative politicians’ focus on patriotism could also have won over the military – with those opposing Brexit seen as doing down the very nation they are fighting for.  

However, in contrast to their younger colleagues, there appeared to be greater support for remaining in the EU by veterans who had fought in World War Two: more than 120 UK armed forces veterans signed an open letter against Brexit on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. “When ​​you trade, you do not fight,” wrote the D-Day survivors.


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Democratic Deficit?

The military has always been one of the most popular institutions in the UK, but in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq War favourable opinions of the forces dropped to a historic low of 54%. This increased to 88% in 2017, when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour Leader and the party was seen as lacking in military fervour and patriotism. 

Public support for the military can cause problems in politics. It can make it difficult for politicians to control the military when voters feel that their armed forces are being betrayed and undermined, and the presence of so many veterans in one party can make it difficult to hold the military to account as it risks being seen as ‘betraying their own’. 

Since Keir Starmer became Labour Leader, he has made a concerted effort to appeal to the armed forces. But all of this really raises the question: what do we mean by patriotism in 21st Century Britain? And can the left balance the internationalist, anti-war outlook that won Corbyn support with a model of patriotism that includes former and serving military personnel? Or will armed forces and veteran support continue to go to the Conservatives? 

Is there a model of patriotism that can return to the 1945 values of housing, health and hope rather than nation, land and empire? And if not, what impact could it have on democracy, when the military is dominated by one political perspective? 




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The post Why Did Labour Lose the Military? appeared first on Byline Times.

Military Matters: 91% of Veterans from the Main Political Parties are Conservatives

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/10/2021 - 10:00pm in

Military Matters91% of Veterans from the Main Political Parties are Conservatives

Disparity in political allegiance among veteran MPs, revealed by the Byline Intelligence Team, raises questions of military representation in British political life


The overwhelming majority of veterans – 91% – from the two main political parties are Conservatives, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

An analysis of the political representation of the members of the House of Lords and Commons who have served in the British military has revealed that, of the 44 veterans who sit in the Commons, 40 are Conservative. 11% of Conservative MPs have served in the armed forces, while only 1% of – 2 – Labour MPs have this background.

In addition, a quarter of the eight Democratic Unionist Party MPs have been in the military. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Jim Shannon both served during The Troubles in the Ulster Defence Regiment – part of the British Army with close links to loyalist paramilitaries.

The Conservative Party is also the political party of choice for peers with a military background. Over three-quarters of veteran peers affiliated with a political party are Conservative members (23 peers). Conversely, there are currently just two Labour peers who have served in the armed forces. There are five Liberal Democrat peers who are veterans. The majority of veteran members of the House of Lords are crossbench peers who are not party political (24).

Defence journalist Joe Glenton, whose new book Veterenhood examines the lives of the British ex-military, is concerned about the dominance of veteran parliamentarians in the two main parties. He believes that their military backgrounds might act as a shield from scrutiny of their political actions.

“Military people in Parliament – with British politics being as militarised as it is –  are a little bit bulletproof,” he told Byline Times.

According to Glenton, democracy is threatened because elected representatives with a military background are harder to criticise. “If you look at the Johnny Mercers and the Tom Tugendhats – the new batch that have come through – my sense is the fact that they are military people makes it harder to criticise because the military, even in Parliament, is elevated to such status,” he said.

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The Byline Intelligence Team‘s research showed that the average veteran MP is a white man – making a space that already has a diversity problem even less representative.  

Just three veteran MPs are non-white: the Conservative Party’s James Cleverly and Darren Henry; and Labour backbencher Clive Lewis. MPs from an ethnic minority background account for 6.8% of veteran MPs, but 19.5% of the UK population is recorded as non-white. 

This reflects a wider pattern of Parliament failing to be representative. The 2019 General Election was championed as producing the most diverse Parliament ever, but less than 10% of MPs elected were non-white.  

Women are also under-represented among veteran MPs. They account for 12.5% of armed forces veterans but only 6.8% of MPs with a military background. There are only three veteran women MPs: Flick Drummond, Sarah Atherton, and Penny Mordaunt. Mordaunt, the UK’s first female Defence Secretary, is a Navy reservist in the Portsmouth-based HMS King Alfred. 

Conservative veteran MPs are also over-represented in the Prime Minister’s inner circle. Ministers with a military background make up 8.7% of the Cabinet, even though 3.1% of the population are armed forces veterans. 

Two Conservative Cabinet members have previously served in the armed forces: Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was an officer in the Scots Guards; while Wales Secretary Simon Hart has previously volunteered as an army reservist. 

No current member of Labour Leader Keir Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet has a military background. 

The Enlisted Electorate 

Increased Conservative political representation across military communities in the UK was also revealed through the Byline Intelligence Team‘s analysis.

It found that constituencies with large barracks overwhelmingly return Conservative MPs (83%). In the 2019 General Election, 62 Conservative MPs were elected by 75 constituencies with sizable military bases. Four Conservative MPs elected by constituencies with barracks were ex-servicemen themselves: Leo Docherty, Richard Drax, Darren Henry, and Andrew Murrison. 

A poll commissioned by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change into Labour’s 2017 General Election defeat found that Jeremy Corbyn’s perceived lack of support for the armed forces pushed some traditional Labour voters to defect.

Labour has recently tried to court the military. Speaking at this year’s Labour Party Conference, Starmer promised to “do right by the great Britons who serve in our armed forces”. Last year, he relaunched the ‘Friends of the Forces’ scheme to “link those in the forces and forces communities directly with Labour’s decision-makers”. But Joe Glenton has called the scheme “a stage prop”. 

“Labour is kind of trying to do what the Conservatives do on defence,” he told Byline Times. “So Starmer comes out with the same kind of platitudes and is trying to do that to appeal to an audience that already has a party.”

Friends of the Forces did not reply to a request for comment.

Former armed services personnel favouring the right is not new. Since the 1951 General Election, the majority of veteran MPs have been Conservative. 

Over the past 80 years, there has been an average of 21 veteran MPs sitting in the House of Commons, with only one veteran MP that is not a Conservative. The most Labour MPs with a military background sitting in the Commons has been three. For the last three decades of the 20th Century, there was no Labour veteran MP.

The headline of this article was updated at 15.15 on 25 October to correct an inaccuracy. The headline should have read that 91% of veterans from main political parties are Conservatives, not that 91% of MPs with armed forces background are Conservative

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.





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Industry and Uncertainty: Crises Loom Over Boris Johnson’s New ‘Red Wall’ Strongholds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/10/2021 - 9:31pm in

Industry & UncertaintyCrises Loom Over Boris Johnson’s New ‘Red Wall’ Strongholds

Katharine Quarmby reports on the potential economic and political repercussions of the second ‘Winter of Discontent’


The Energy Intensive Users Group (EIUG) doesn’t mince its words about the energy crisis for its members in steel, chemicals, fertilisers, paper, glass, cement, lime, ceramics, and industrial gases.

It states – pointedly – that, while it welcomes recent talks with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, on the “impact of the continued, sustained and unprecedented high energy prices on the UK’s energy intensive industries”, it is now looking to the Treasury for a “equally swift response”.

The group is seeking what it calls “cost containment measures” for gas and electricity prices, as its main request. 

Dr Richard Leese, EIUG chair, said in a statement: “EIUG will work with Government to avoid threats both to the production of essential domestic and industrial products, as well an enormous range of supply chains critical to our economy and levelling up the country.”

The scale of the challenge is contained in the soaring cost of each megawatt of energy. According to Make UK, which represents manufacturers, this figure has spiked from around £50 per megawatt hour last year, up to thousands of pounds most recently. 

The EIUG’s press release, warning of threats to “levelling up” is a clear jab at Boris Johnson. It is instructive that the Prime Minister’s own rhetoric is now being deployed by manufacturers and campaigns groups to hold his Government to account, on behalf of the towns that voted for him in 2019.

Bleak Midwinter

In 2019, a raft of former safe Labour seats – mostly in the Midlands, the north of England and north Wales; known colloquially as the ‘Red Wall’ – flipped dramatically to the Conservative Party. Most of these areas had voted in favour of Brexit in 2016, and were converted by the Conservatives’ promise to “get Brexit done”.

Two years later, Brexit is now arguably biting back, contributing to supply-chain problems while energy prices soar exponentially. These crises will undoubtedly impact individuals and manufacturers in the Red Wall, which is characterised by relatively high levels of deprivation, along with a history of industrial employment.

Mary Creagh – the former Labour MP for Wakefield, a former Shadow Cabinet Minister and one-time chair of the parliamentary Environmental Audit Select Committee – has been working at the local food bank in Finsbury Park, north London. She is thoughtful about the effect of the energy crisis on her former constituency – a brick in the Red Wall that fell to Conservative candidate Imran Ahmad Khan in 2019.

“Thousands of families will lose some Universal Credit this month, petrol prices have gone up, which is feeding into the cost of living and inflation,” she tells Byline Times. “We may be seeing an interest rate rise – and then there are the rising energy costs. That’s not even an unholy Trinity; it’s an unholy pentagon.”

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Looking ahead to the winter, she points out the thousands of deaths that occur every year when people turn off the heating. “The price cap on energy may help now, but it’s going to be a very challenging winter.”

“In some of those Red Wall seats, it could lead to political movement,” she adds.

The Red Wall is comprised of dozens of seats that have displayed a longstanding cultural and political attachment to the Labour Party – derived from a local history of unionised labour. This bond snapped in 2019, with 33 of Labour’s 43 Red Wall seats in England flipping to the Conservatives.

This has ushered in a new flock of Conservative MPs, many of whom have since come together through the Northern Research Group of backbench Conservatives, chaired by Jake Berry, the MP for Rossendale and Darwen and former Northern Powerhouse Minister.

Berry has made no secret of his view that state intervention in times of crisis can be helpful – while others in the group have sounded the alarm over the Government’s decision to end the Universal Credit uplift introduced during the Coronavirus crisis.

The energy crisis could be another occasion when northern Conservatives are able to apply political influence on the Prime Minister. After all, it is these MPs who risk losing their seats as the “unholy pentagon” looms.

The Trade-Off

In Staffordshire in the west Midlands, the three parliamentary seats in the city of Stoke-on-Trent are now held by Conservative MPs. Stoke-on-Trent South was gained by the party in 2017 – a sign of things to come – with the other two seats following in 2019.

“Stoke, it’s right at the centre of the kingdom; it’s the gearbox of the country,” Joe Rich, the Conservative candidate for Stoke-on-Trent before 2017, tells Byline Times. “The Midlands and the north, the steel city of Sheffield; they matter.”

He explains that Stoke’s ceramics industry is a huge business, manufacturing parts for industry – not just wedding sets and teapots. He is somewhat gloomy about the future of production in the area, despite innovative companies diversifying their sources of energy.

“What will probably happen is that some ceramics firms will stop production in Stoke and move to parts of the world where things are cheaper,” he says. “We may start seeing more ceramics made in Russia, or even Iran and Iraq, where energy is cheap.”

Rich worries about the energy crisis, but is not sure that “bucking the market” is going to solve the fundamental problems of a country that is currently energy poorer than most. 

Dan Jellyman, director of Aegean Consultants – which advises business on policy changes – is a former owner of a ceramics business in Stoke, who advises industries, including ceramics, on how to mitigate political risks.

He explains that the closure of the Rough gas storage facility in 2017 had already reduced UK gas storage by 70%, meaning the Government had only a few weeks of critical gas supply in hand, unlike many other European countries.

“All the major industries are in the Red Wall areas, the Red Wall agenda plays into this,” Jellyman observes. “In terms of ceramics, there are three Conservative constituencies here in Stoke. It will be interesting to see if the Government decides to help the ceramics industry.”

His best bet is that if the Treasury has to choose between the various energy-intensive industries – steel, glass, ceramics and paper – it will choose steel. “It’s the critical one, the foundation of the economy; there are already steel shortages and that creates risks in everything from road-building to buying new street bins.”

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“The Government will intervene but not all the industries which are energy intensive can be a winner,” Jellyman adds. “The ceramics industry could be hit twice, because it uses electricity as well as gas. These industries are going to have to face this fundamental challenge for years to come, as the Government goes down the green route.”

He suggests that industry needs to look ahead, investing in new energy sources such as hydrogen, but adds that the Government’s hydrogen policy is “nowhere near where it needs to be”. 

Some industrialists are already eyeing-up cleaner and potentially more reliable energy sources, such as hydrogen. Jo Bamford, the JCB heir – a company that is headquartered near Stoke – has just launched a £1 billion investment fund to finance green hydrogen projects.

The Tees Valley, meanwhile, home to 60% of the UK’s energy-intensive industries, has launched a clean industrial zone. But cheerleading for future clean energy and regional change, however welcome, isn’t going to solve the immediate problem of an energy crisis – and the knock-on effects on industry this winter. 

The Government appears to be in a fix; juggling the optics of protecting fossil-fuel-reliant industries before its crucial COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, while facing the daily wrath of unhappy industrial leaders and struggling new constituencies. But a crumb of political comfort remains in the fact that the Labour Party seems not to have worked out an easy way to make political capital out of the situation – yet. 




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Healthy Life Expectancy has Fallen in 80% of ‘Red Wall’ Areas Since Conservatives Took Power

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/10/2021 - 8:30pm in

Healthy Life Expectancy has Fallen in 80% of Red Wall AreasSince Conservatives Took Power

The health outcomes of the north and Midlands have been levelled down since the Conservatives took office, reports Sam Bright


Some 80% of ‘Red Wall’ areas in England have suffered a decline in healthy life expectancy for either men or women since the Conservative Party took office in 2010, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

Healthy life expectancy is the amount of time that a person can expect to live in a good state of health. The average healthy life expectancy in the UK was 62.9 years for men and 63.3 years for women from 2017 to 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The Byline Intelligence Team assessed the healthy life expectancy for Red Wall areas in England – former industrial heartlands in the north and Midlands, many of which flipped from Labour to the Conservatives at the 2019 General Election – inspecting data for the closest conurbations to these seats (ONS data does not correlate directly with parliamentary constituencies).

The analysis revealed that healthy life expectancy for either men or women had fallen in 16 of the 20 areas for which data is available during the period from 2009-11 to 2017-19.

In the 20 Red Wall areas, average healthy life expectancy for men rose marginally from an average of 59.71 years in 2009-11 to 59.74 in 2017-19. In nine of the areas, healthy life expectancy for men fell during the period.

Overall, healthy life expectancy for women fell in these Red Wall areas, from 60.6 years to 59.9. In 14 (70%) of the areas, healthy life expectancy for women fell during the period.

Thus, on average in the Red Wall, men and women are expected to be in poor health six year before the UK retirement age of 66. Across the country, healthy life expectancy for men has risen marginally since 2009-11 from 62.7 to 62.9 years, while healthy life expectancy for females has dropped from 63.8 to 63.3.

The analysis found that only one Red Wall area (out of 20) exceeded the UK-wide average healthy life expectancy for men, while only three exceeded the average for women.

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A new paper in the Lancet health journal has found that, overall, life expectancy has been falling in many areas of the north over the past decade. It found extreme differences in life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas of the country – with men in parts of Blackpool expected to live for 68.3 years, compared to 95.3 years in some areas of Kensington and Chelsea in London.

The esteemed health academic and researcher Sir Michael Marmot conducted a review in 2020, looking at the health prospects of people in England. He came to similar conclusions, noting that the poorest areas had seen a growth in sickness and premature death over the past decade, while people in the richest places were living longer.

There has even been a cleavage at a regional level, with the highest life expectancy enjoyed by London, the south-east and the south-west, and the lowest life expectancy seen in the north-east, north-west and Yorkshire.

Marmot’s diagnosis placed responsibility at the feet of successive Conservative governments. In 2010, he recommended that public spending on the social causes of poor health – including poverty, homelessness and insecure work – should increase, while state funds should be distributed more equitably to those in need.

By 2020, however, Marmot concluded that state spending on the key social determinants of health had fallen, and that the funding was allocated in a less equitable way. He wrote:

“Austerity has taken its toll… From rising child poverty and the closure of children’s centres, to declines in education funding, an increase in precarious work and zero hours contracts, to a housing affordability crisis and a rise in homelessness, to people with insufficient money to lead a healthy life and resorting to foodbanks in large numbers, to ignored communities with poor conditions and little reason for hope. And these outcomes, on the whole, are even worse for minority ethnic population groups and people with disabilities.”

This appears to pose a political paradox. The Conservatives have gained seats in areas that have suffered from the worst outcomes of Conservative policies since the party took power in 2010. As the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank has noted, absolute spending cuts during the austerity years were six times larger in the poorest places than in the richest.

When Byline Times spoke to Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham earlier this week – who formerly represented the Red Wall seat of Leigh – he suggested that voters applied blame to both national and local leaders, with local MPs and councils censured for the cut-backs implemented by Whitehall. Services are largely administered by councils, even if the funding is granted by ministers in London, and people saw the retrenchment of local services as at least partly the fault of their local (Labour) representatives.

The Prime Minister’s flagship policy is to “level up” the very areas that the Conservative Party levelled down from 2010 to 2019. If he fails, the poorest parts of the country will have experienced more than a decade of declining health outcomes.

Additional reporting by Sascha Lavin

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.





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Johnson, Starmer and the Tectonic Plates of British Politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/10/2021 - 8:30pm in

Johnson, Starmer& the Tectonic Plates of British Politics

Professor Chris Painter explores the strategic electoral dilemmas which Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer respectively face, as normal political engagement resumes


Soon after the 2019 General Election – a traumatic experience for the Labour Party – came the onset of a public health crisis not seen for a century and on which the nation’s mind became almost exclusively fixated for the best part of 16 months.

Apart from anything else, it gave Boris Johnson and his Cabinet exclusive control over political channels of communication through their frequent in-person media briefings. State intervention on a scale not seen since the Second World War, including emergency financial support for companies and employees, along with vaccines for a novel disease produced at remarkable speed, also provided political lifelines for the Prime Minister, notwithstanding his repeated floundering responses to the Coronavirus pandemic.

All of which meant that Keir Starmer, as newly-elected Labour Leader, struggled to receive a hearing or make much of an impression on the electorate. Now, we have resumed something like more ‘normal’ political engagement, despite various crises continuing to rumble away and threatening to erupt this winter.

The end of the party conference season presents an opportune moment to take stock of Johnson and Starmer’s strategic positioning and their respective strengths and weaknesses, as the battleground is prepared for the next general election.

Johnson may have a political strategy, but there is little sign of any governing strategy

Johnson’s Political Strategy

Boris Johnson’s achievement in the 2019 General Election was to solidify a right-leaning vote, assisted by Nigel Farage’s decision to stand down Brexit Party candidates in prime Conservative electoral territory. Voters treated that election as an opportunity to resolve a three-year-old Brexit crisis that had festered during Theresa May’s premiership, with profound questions of national identity thereby reconfiguring political allegiances in Johnson’s favour.

One of the strategic challenges facing Johnson now is how to sustain the diverse electoral coalition that was the upshot.

Ministers are trying their best, continuing to shamelessly tap into English nationalist sentiment and deploying the full repertoire of populist rhetoric in the process.

Johnson’s overarching future strategy is also clear if we read the runes from his party conference speech. Strange as it may seem, it appears as though he wishes to inherit the mantle of Tony Blair’s ‘big tent’ politics, covering his flank every which way and starving the opposition of any electoral ground.

But that is offset by a number of problems.

His high-octane rhetoric is unmatched by delivery. Destinations and promised benefits are somehow always out of reach, stretching into a distant future; whereas pain concentrates in the present. Moreover, he remains the most polarising political figure since Margaret Thatcher, not least because of his uncompromising Brexit stance.

Johnson’s underlying strategic weakness therefore is that he may have a political strategy, but there is little sign of any governing strategy. As a consequence, his premiership is engulfed by multiple crises, with Brexit a significant contributory factor to the economic and logistical ruptures being experienced.

His latest rationalisation for labour shortages and trading frictions has all the plausibility of voodoo economics, alienating the Conservative Party’s former business constituency. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that barely more than a third of adults currently view Brexit as a success. So, despite Johnson possessing an aura of political invincibility, winter financial hardships for many of those who cast their vote for him in 2019 will likely have unpredictable political consequences.           

Indeed, Starmer has a long time to exploit the the current political climate if it becomes ever-more turbulent.

Prior to becoming Prime Minister, Harold Wilson lambasted the Conservative governments that had occupied office continuously from 1951 to 1964 for their “13 wasted years”. Opportunities for comparable attacks on the most recent 13-year period of Conservative rule by 2023 will be legion: David Cameron and George Osborne’s austerity, May’s political paralysis, Johnson’s misrule when guarantee of even basic supply chains became problematic.

Starmer has also proved politically astute in avoiding temptations to be drawn into Johnson’s ‘culture wars’. One of the fundamental mistakes of Labour over the past decade was arguably letting Conservative governments constantly define policy parameters and public narratives. Starmer is much better advised to take his cue from Labour’s ongoing strategic policy review, as Johnson continues to flounder.

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Starmer’s Electoral Dilemmas

For Labour, four distinct electoral strategies could be found.

First, renouncing Brexit and cutting losses as quickly as possible on a disastrously ill-conceived project. The risk of this approach is that it may play directly into Boris Johnson’s hands, reigniting the national identity debate to Labour’s detriment. Arguably, it makes much more sense to incrementally chart a road back to a closer trading alignment with mainland Europe. The downside involves exposing the party’s political flank to the Liberal Democrats in former Remain-voting seats.

Of course, Labour may be driven into reassessing this cost-benefit analysis as Johnson’s Brexit unravels, with even the threat of a tariff war looming over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Concessions to mitigate the most damaging labour shortages, temporarily easing strict visa requirements, chisel away at the very fabric of his extreme form of Brexit, even when evaluated on its own terms.

Second, there is the metropolitan strategy, capitalising on Labour’s current mayoral strengths. This entails distancing itself from the party’s traditional voter base following the ‘Red Wall’ disaster in the 2019 General Election. A new electoral coalition centred on urban cities and younger, more highly educated cohorts would supersede former historical alignments. That said, it is hard to conceive of how this coalition could form the basis for anything like an electoral majority in the foreseeable future.

The third strategy is a ‘progressive alliance’, with Labour acknowledging that it can only succeed under the current electoral system by forging a formal pact with like-minded smaller parties. The logistics, though, are a nightmare and it presumes voters can be moved around like pieces on a chess board. The rationale is much more likely to be realised pragmatically by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens targeting finite resources according to their relative and complementary strengths.

Finally, there is a strategy that focuses on the breadth of the party’s appeal. Compelling polling evidence suggests that, even to be in with a fighting chance of emerging as the largest party at the next election, Labour must not only attract progressive votes but also ‘soft’ Conservative support. An intrinsic tension exists because what may attract one demographic group could deter another.

There is an additional challenge of breaching the ‘grey wall’ of older voters so carefully cultivated by the Conservative Party, and with whom Johnson’s nationalist rhetoric seems to particularly resonate. Add to that the current wasteland for Labour of Scotland, and a formidable array of obstacles are apparent.



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Starmer nonetheless appears willing to gamble his political future on the fourth approach – the most ambitious of the strategies – despite Johnson’s rhetorical endeavours to crowd out his electoral space. That leaves the Labour Party Leader with an unenviable political balancing act of both reassuring cautious, soft-Conservative prospective voters and appealing to those who would be tempted to vote for the Greens and the Liberal Democrats.

Realistically, given Labour’s starting point, Starmer’s approach will need to be combined with a de facto version of the third strategy, with a number of ‘Blue Wall’ seats likely to be more vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats. Previous British elections do suggest that other progressive political parties tend to perform better when Labour is in revival mode. If Labour encourages this process, even tacitly, it will deprive the Conservatives of seats.

That all leaves Johnson continuing to edge ahead in the polls, with Starmer still requiring a crisper political narrative to out-manoeuvre the performative theatrics of Johnson’s populist politics.

Yet, Starmer’s conference speech appears to have impressed more than Johnson’s reality-defying tour de force. Starmer is a less divisive political figure, as demonstrated in Byline Times’ own recently commissioned poll. Other polling evidence suggests, moreover, that support for Johnson in some of his newly-acquired Red Wall seats is already fraying, let alone his potential vulnerability in former Remain-voting Blue Wall constituencies.  

Ultimately, we all have a stake in the outcome. The strains being placed on Britain’s economy and society have become visceral, aggravated by a growing sense of the chaos enveloping Johnson’s premiership. If the British state’s governance is to return to anything like an internationally acceptable norm, it is imperative that a truly competitive party system is restored as soon as possible.

Chris Painter is Professor Emeritus of Public Policy and Management, and formerly Head of Social Sciences at Birmingham City University




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Johnson’s Jolly and Political Polarisation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/10/2021 - 2:48am in

Johnson’s Jolly& Political Polarisation

The public’s attitude to the Prime Minister’s holiday shows that we are still stuck in an era of tribal political conflicts, contends Sam Bright


Boris Johnson is on holiday – again. The Prime Minister appears to have a proclivity for donning his swim shorts at inopportune moments. During the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic, Johnson missed five emergency planning meetings because he was holidaying at Chevening, a 17th Century mansion in Kent.

In late 2020, as an international feud escalated over the assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, Johnson was criticised for not returning from a private villa holiday in Mustique – funded by Conservative donor David Ross.

Indeed, Johnson has a long history on this front, with the former Mayor of London condemned in 2011 for failing to return swiftly to the capital from Canada after riots broke out in the city.

However, his current trip seems particularly jarring, given the current state of affairs in Britain. While he soaks up the sun on the Costa del Sol, facilitated by Conservative peer and minister Lord Zac Goldsmith, people back home have been running out of petrol; suffering from the end of the Universal Credit uplift; and wondering how they will pay rapidly rising energy bills, as well as greater living costs more generally. There is also a mass, chronic shortage of HGV drivers that is causing widespread supply chain problems, and a mounting conflict with the EU over Johnson’s own Brexit deal.

To survey the public’s mood about the Prime Minister’s annual leave, Byline Times commissioned Omnisis to run an independent poll, asking people whether they approve or disapprove of the holiday.

The results were interesting – and reveal the structural polarisation of our political system.

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I presumed that, overwhelmingly, voters would be circumspect – if not outright hostile – towards Johnson’s trip to southern Spain. After all, there are acute problems currently afflicting millions of people in the UK, and voters don’t approve of MPs and ministers revelling in luxury at the best of times – a persistent legacy of the MPs’ expenses scandal.

What the results revealed, however, was a political cleavage. Of the respondents who voted for the Conservatives in the 2019 General Election, 50% approved of Johnson’s holiday and only 20% disapproved. This was reflected among those who voted in favour of Brexit in 2016: 41% approved and 28% disapproved.

On the other side of the political divide, the responses were inverted. Only 17% of 2019 Labour voters surveyed approved of Johnson’s break, while 56% disapproved. This was also reflected among the Liberal Democrats asked – with 31% who approved and 51% who disapproved – and the 2016 Remain voters surveyed, 22% who approved and 51% who disapproved.

Overall, 31% of those surveyed approved and 38% disapproved of the trip, while the rest were unmoved on the subject.

Tribal Attachment

The results illustrate the current political climate in the UK, and perhaps why the Labour Party has been struggling to make headway since the election of Keir Starmer as its leader in April 2020.

Politics appears to be now marked by tribalism; a rigid, emotional attachment to a political leader, party or cause, unswayed by new facts or changing events. There is also a deep suspicion of the mediators – journalists – who are assumed to have a pre-existing agenda or an unfair bias against certain leaders or parties. Facts that seems self-evident to some people are held in deep suspicion by others.

For this reason, perhaps, Starmer’s Labour Party has placed its faith in ‘constructive opposition’ – seeking to point out the failures of Johnson’s administration, but using language that is not overly hostile. In its effort to attract voters to the Labour cause, Starmer is potentially worried about deploying war-like rhetoric that will further embed voters in Johnson’s tribe.

Ultimately, Byline Times‘ polling indicates that, for all the talk of ‘getting Brexit done’, the electorate is still firmly entrenched in the political battles fought from 2016 to 2019, when Leave and Remain supporters were engaged in a protracted, heated struggle both inside and outside Parliament. Brexit fundamentally reoriented the UK’s political geography.

This poses a conspicuous problem for Labour, with its most optimistic supporters hoping that voters – especially in ‘Red Wall’ seats – merely lent their votes to the Conservative Party for one election, in order to rubber-stamp the UK’s departure from the EU. Rather than signifying a one-off event, however, it appears that Johnson’s support in these seats may be more stubborn than many anticipated.


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However, rigid polarisation also poses a problem for Johnson. As this newspaper’s previous polling has demonstrated, the Prime Minister provokes extreme emotions. Competing against Starmer, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, Johnson is the public’s first choice as Prime Minister and its last choice as Prime Minister. It seems unlikely that Johnson will be able to convert many new people to his cause, with his political prospects governed by his ability to retain his base of ardent supporters.

Consequently, Labour may have misjudged its ameliorative approach to opposition. If Johnson’s base is willing to support the Prime Minister in the face of mass COVID-19 fatalities, cronyism and vacuous leadership, Starmer’s attempt to convert them will likely be futile.

Instead, a more profitable approach may be to coalesce the bulging cohort of people who are deeply and irrevocably opposed to the Conservative Prime Minister and his agenda – an approach that proved successful for Labour at the 2017 General Election.

Ultimately, it seems unlikely that Labour could siphon votes from those who see Johnson’s jolly as a cause for celebration. As one person said in response to the poll, conducted on Monday: “He deserves a break for all the hard work he’s done in the last two years.”

On Tuesday, two influential parliamentary committees concluded that Boris Johnson’s Coronavirus response was “one of UK’s worst ever public health failures”.

The online poll was conducted by Omnisis of a random sample of 500 adults between 11 and 12 October 2021. The full results and methodology can be found here.




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The BBC Has an Institutional Culture of Brexit Self-Censorship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/10/2021 - 8:54pm in

The BBC Has anInstitutional Culture of Brexit Self-Censorship

Former BBC producer Patrick Howse explores why the broadcaster is unwilling to speak truth to power over Brexit


A recent exchange on BBC Question Time told us a lot about the current state of the country, and the BBC’s reporting of it. Supply chain problems resulting from a lack of lorry drivers was the issue being discussed. As the vast majority of people acknowledge, Brexit has undoubtedly played a role in this crisis.

A man in the audience told presenter Fiona Bruce that there was “a bit of an irony” in the current situation because, in his opinion, “a lot of people voted Brexit because they didn’t want foreign workers coming over here and taking their jobs. And now that’s exactly what we’ve got – we’ve got a lack of foreign workers, which is why we’ve got these shortages.”

Bruce snapped back that she wanted to hear from someone who voted for Brexit, only to be told by the man in the audience: “actually, I did”.

Bruce’s clear irritation was accompanied by an almost throw-away remark with which she moved on the discussion. “A majority of people here voted for Brexit, we select this audience very carefully to be representative”.

I found this remarkable – even though I’ve had serious concerns about Question Time and its sister Radio 4 programme Any Questions for a long time. It raises two big questions: how do these programmes determine whether someone is pro-Brexit, and why do they feel it’s so important to ensure their audiences are stacked in this way?

The BBC’s press office confirmed to me that the evaluation is based on “referendum and election results”. They did not elaborate on which elections they mean, nor how a Labour vote – for example – is interpreted: was a vote for Labour in 2019 pro- or anti-Brexit?

All of which suggests that the BBC is basing its calculations on the 2016 referendum. Ergo, the BBC has taken a decision that the people of the UK irrevocably made up their minds in 2016, voted Leave, and ended the debate. More than five years later, there’s no room in a Question Time audience for anyone who has come to understand the reality of the project and has thus changed their mind.

Fiona Bruce’s clear exasperation at the audience member is telling. The BBC is frightened. It fears the wrath of the Government, but it is also terrified of Leave voters, and wants to avoid at any cost appearing to say that they got it wrong.

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Fear and Brexit

I have previously written for Byline Times about a feeling among some former colleagues that there was something approaching a BBC policy not to run stories that might undermine public trust in Boris Johnson.

It’s likely that key people in the BBC have decided that Brexit must be respected, and that it’s not the BBC’s job to “take a view” on it – particularly if that means portraying the project in a negative way. Both the chairman and the director general are known to have been Conservative supporters, after all, with the former having donated more than £400,000 to the party.

Anyone who has worked at the BBC will confirm that the corporation is not cohesive. It is a diverse, loose coalition of hostile fiefdoms and mini empires. Even within news, there are competing factions: ‘newsgathering’ against ‘programmes’ against the World Service; radio against TV against online, and dozens of further, mind-boggling sub-divisions.

Former colleagues of mine tend to blame other departments for the reluctance to tackle Brexit-related issues. For example, one household name told me, “it’s all coming from Millbank”, a reference to the BBC’s offices in Westminster – a view that appears to be quite widely shared in the New Broadcasting House newsroom.


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It’s clear, though, that the 2016 referendum took the BBC into anxious territory. I had left the BBC by this time, but friends tell me that the result shook the corporation. The result was taken to be an unambiguous statement of disillusionment from a large group of voters against the establishment. The BBC didn’t understand this group, and feared that it wasn’t addressing or serving it.

Since then, the BBC has desperately sought to represent these ‘voices’ on air and – crucially – to not offend them. The net result has been fear-driven self-censorship at every level. This is not just a desire to appease the BBC’s Government critics, but to placate Leave voters as well.

This has been felt across the BBC’s output. There’s a clear reluctance to mention ‘the B-word’ at all. That is unlikely to change any time soon – because the BBC does not feel as though its job involves holding the Government to account over Brexit.

In normal times, with a government presiding over such a mess, you would expect Britain’s newspapers to be scenting blood. The BBC would be following in their slipstream, always taking care not to find itself at the head of the pack.

But we are not in normal times. The right-wing press is complicit, compliant, and silent on the grave problems looming ahead. Labour has shown that it doesn’t really want to talk about Brexit. And at every level within the BBC, there’s an institutional reluctance to fill the gap; to inform and educate the nation about the consequences of Brexit.

Aside from harming the country, this poses a danger to the BBC. When this all plays out, and the disastrous impacts of Brexit become clear – as they are beginning to – will the people of Britain feel they were well served by our public service broadcaster?

At the moment, the answer is an emphatic ‘no’.




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A Turning Tide? Johnson’s Campaign to Turn Two Fingers Up at Business Continues

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/10/2021 - 1:48am in

A Turning Tide? Johnson’s Campaign to Turn Two Fingers Up at Business Continues

Mike Buckley reflects on the Prime Minister’s attempts to distract from the economic plague that the Government has inflicted on the nation


Was it the week the tide turned? Boris Johnson’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference created headlines for – from his perspective – all the wrong reasons.

The next day’s newspapers remarked on its lack of policy announcements, while think tanks and business leaders from across the political spectrum decried its detachment from economic reality with the outside world facing long queues for fuel, higher prices, and the threat of black-outs over winter.  

The Prime Minister’s speech was “economically illiterate”, according to the right-wing think tank, the Adam Smith Institute.

“The public will soon tire of Boris’s banter if the Government does not get a grip of mounting crises: price rises, tax rises, fuel shortages, labour shortages,” observed Ryan Shorthouse, director of Conservative think tank Bright Blue. 

Even pro-Brexit business leaders spoke out.

The chief executive of Next and Conservative peer Lord Simon Wolfson said that the Government’s post-Brexit immigration policy was causing “chronic” problems for a range of sectors including restaurants, care homes, small businesses, hospitals, fruit farms, and warehouses. Johnson’s call for businesses to fill labour gaps by paying home-grown workers more risked “a 1970s-style inflationary spiral”, he said.

They were each in their own way responding to Johnson’s claim that labour shortages created by Brexit are part of a Government plan to force employers to raise wages and invest in British workers. “We are not going back to the same old broken model,” Johnson said, “with low wages, low growth, low skills and low productivity enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration.”

“The answer to present stresses and strains,” he continued, “which are mainly a function of growth and economic revival, is not to reach for that same old lever of uncontrolled immigration. The answer is to control immigration.” 

Johnson’s claims make little economic sense. He “can battle business but he can’t ignore economics”, said the Financial Times. Meanwhile, Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, argued that Johnson mistakenly believes that “a migration policy is the same thing as an economic strategy”.

Overall, cutting immigration makes people poorer, Byline Times columnist and economic professor Jonathan Portes said. In economic models, reduced immigration means that “real wages and productivity of residents will fall, on average” and it is not “credible to claim that Brexit – seen as a set of new restrictions on migration – will somehow shock us onto a path of higher productivity [and] real wages”. 

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Yet, that is exactly what Johnson claimed to a packed hall of Conservative devotees. In all likelihood, the Prime Minister is aware that he will not be able to create a high wage, high productivity economy. Rather, his purpose was to make a virtue out of a crisis – to claim that labour and goods shortages now afflicting Britain are part of the plan.

All ministers care about is “polling and votes”, said one business executive, adding: “These are transparent tactics. They have retrospectively decided that the reason for all these crises is the need to reboot the economy, and now they need an enemy to blame.”

“Where is the party of business?” asked Craig Beaumont, chief of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses. “The media were apparently to blame for the fuel crisis, then it was consumers to blame, and now business is to blame for low wages and supply chain shortages,” he added.

Business leaders are increasingly exasperated by the Government’s adversarial position and its unwillingness to recognise the added costs imposed by Brexit, alongside proposed increases in national insurance and corporation tax. Confidence among companies in the UK has fallen sharply, risking future investment as the UK seeks to rebuild after the pandemic.

A Permanent Problem

But business leaders are not the audience whose approval the Government seeks. Its eyes are firmly on voters – who, for the moment, are still giving Johnson the benefit of the doubt.

Opinion polls still put the Conservatives ahead of Labour, by nine points in the latest YouGov poll for The Times. James Kirkup, director of the Social Market Foundation think tank, reports that few Britons now believe that the Government should make the lives of businesses easier anyway.

But public patience may not last forever.

Shortages are not a temporary blip; they are a permanent consequence of Brexit. “Britain is a net importer of almost everything a modern society needs to survive,” says economist Umair Haque. “Brexit has placed so many hurdles in the way – from paperwork to tariffs to red tape to backlogs – that many European businesses have simply decided not to supply Britain at all. That means that Britain has done something genuinely incredible: it’s created a long-term supply shock for its own economy.”

Unlike shocks resulting from war or natural disaster, this one will not disappear swiftly. Brexit trade barriers will not be undone, at least not in the short-term. Shortages are here to stay. The Government will try to source goods from elsewhere but, as it is already finding, the rest of the world has little interest in meaningful trade deals with Britain, as evidenced by US President Joe Biden’s swift refusal to even open the conversation during Johnson’s recent trip to America.

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The situation is likely to get worse if, as seems increasingly likely, the EU imposes sanctions over Britain’s failure to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol and Withdrawal Agreement. The EU feels, quite rightly, that the rights of one of its member states are being disregarded. Meanwhile, France is incensed by Britain’s refusal to implement agreed fishing rights for French boats. 

“Enough already, we have an agreement negotiated by France, by Michel Barnier, and it should be applied 100%. It isn’t being,” said French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune. 

If the EU applies tariffs to UK goods entering the single market, as is its prerogative, added costs and burdens will be applied to UK businesses. The end result will be higher inflation, lower productivity, and lost jobs. If the French cut-off energy supplies to the UK, as has been threatened, winter power cuts and price spikes will become more likely.

In such circumstances, public patience will surely run out, and the Government will run out of people to blame. The result could be a swift reckoning for Johnson’s Conservatives. 

Saving Graces?

However, there are perhaps three factors that could save the Prime Minister, at least for some time.

The first is the lack of an alternative. Few politicians are willing to speak out against Brexit, fewer still to argue that it was a project bound to cause deep economic harm and to make all Britons poorer. 

Second is the Coronavirus pandemic. A spike in infections over the autumn or winter, made more likely by the Government’s refusal to require even basic mitigations, could give Johnson cover for Brexit harms – as it has done for the past 18 months. 

Finally, Leave voters do not believe that they made the wrong decision. In polls, Labour and Remain voters are far more likely to blame Brexit for the recent shortages than Conservative and Leave voters. Until that changes, Johnson’s 40% poll rating will stay fairly secure. 

Nevertheless, this week felt like a turning point. The fact that so many business leaders have spoken out could embolden opposition politicians and the media. The route is clear for Labour to assume the mantle of the party of business – not in opposition to the interests of workers but in their defence – for without viable businesses there are no decent jobs. And as Johnson continues on his quest to f*ck business, Labour can rebuild its economic credibility.

But, for that to happen, Labour will have to contend with the core feature of Johnson’s programme: Brexit – to call out its failures and propose a better settlement with the EU. The public deserves to know the truth. It is Labour’s job, along with the media, to explain it to them. 

Mike Buckley is director of the campaign group ‘Labour for a European Future’




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