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I Am An Addict To Doctor Who: Time Fracture And Dreading Withdrawal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/05/2022 - 11:06pm in

I visited the immersive Doctor Who: Time Fracture experience for the press days during lockdown as the show was struggling to stage its delayed opening.

The Great Escape: How a City Exodus is Creating New Housing Crises in Satellite Towns

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 11:41pm in

Sam Bright and Sascha Lavin explore how the ‘Zoomtowns’ phenomenon is putting a burden on local property markets

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London’s housing crisis is a well-documented feature of national life, with extortion now an accepted part of the capital’s property market.

In the year to March, asking rents in London increased by 14.3% – the largest annual increase anywhere in the country since records began. According to Rightmove, the average cost of renting in the capital is now £2,193 a month. This trend is tracked in other major cities, with Gráinne Gilmore from Zoopla saying that the firm has seen the “flooding of rental demand back into city centres”.

However, a simultaneous process has been occurring in the capital, in the form of relatively subdued growth in property purchasing prices. In the year to February 2022, for example, London experienced the slowest growth in purchasing prices of any English region – 8.1% – compared to 12.5% in the east and the southwest, and 12% in the wider south east.

Average London house prices still stand at some £530,000, exceeding the southeast by £150,000 and the southwest by £215,000, but this gap appears to be closing – triggered by the pandemic.

With home working normalised, many London property owners decided to liquidate their assets and break from the confines of the capital – buying larger homes, with more indoor and outdoor space, in less expensive areas of the country. While Manchester had a dwelling density of 20.3 per hectare in 2021, Kensington and Chelsea logged 73 dwellings per hectare, and Tower Hamlets had 65.4 per hectare.

As we have been brought into closer contact with the homes and communities in which we live, people have naturally sought to escape the crammed living quarters offered by the capital.

However, this exodus from London – people previously living in the capital spent a record £54.9 billion on properties outside London in 2021 – has not seen the scattering of Londoners to far-flung areas of the country.

“Places absorbing in-migrants from cities seem to be sparsely populated areas within commuting distance from large employment centres, particularly London,” says Francisco Rowe, senior lecturer in Quantitative Human Geography at the University of Liverpool. “People leaving large cities tend to work in high skilled professional occupations which do not necessarily require face-to-face contact.”

However, as Rowe identifies, face-to-face contact has not been dispensed with entirely, even among highly-skilled occupations. Hybrid working is now the norm, with people splitting their time between the office and home and keeping them within the orbit of major cities – albeit allowing them to move further away from the city centre.

And so, while the pandemic has liberated workers to some extent – potentially aiding the regional redistribution of the economy, as identified by Gaby Hinsliff recently in the Guardian – it is also incubating a range of new problems for the satellite towns that feed big cities.

Feeder Towns

Primary among these problems is the inflation of local property prices, with London’s housing crisis now stretching beyond the confines of the city. From 2020 to 2021, house prices increased by 14% in England while earnings fell by 1% and, by 2021, full-time employees could expect to spend around 9.1 times their workplace-based annual earnings on purchasing a home – up from 7.9 in 2020.

These affordability issues are concentrated in the south of England – particularly in areas that flank London. The worst housing crises outside the capital – in terms of the ratio of house prices to annual earnings – are suffered by the Cotswolds, Chichester, Waverley, Tandridge, Epsom and Ewell, Elmbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Windsor and Maidenhead, St Albans, Hertsmere, Epping Forest, and Brentwood. All of these places are either in the east of England, the south east or the south west.

A number of these places – the Cotswolds, Chichester, Tunbridge Wells, Windsor and Maidenhead, and Brentwood – have only entered this leaderboard since 2018.

Of the local authorities that have experienced the largest increase in house prices in the year to February 2022, all are relatively small conurbations – small towns and rural districts – with low housing density compared to bigger cities. More than 60% of these areas are in the south of England and the biggest increases have been seen in North Devon (a 24.1% jump) and Lewes (20.7%) in the south east.

“The impacts on these areas are expected to be noticeable,” says Rowe. “In the short-term, migration to small towns or rural areas is likely to exert pressures on the housing market, causing rises in local house prices and greater demand for local services, such as transport and consumer products... In the long-term, if migration from cities to the same places continue, the pressures identified above are likely to result in gentrification displacing some of the less affluent communities.”

Gentrification, the transformation of working-class areas by more affluent residents seeking cheaper properties, has been taking place in London for some time – and now looks set to be carried beyond the capital. Torbay, for example, which has seen house price increases of 16.4% over the last year, has concurrently experienced a 150% surge in people seeking temporary accommodation due to being made homeless since 2018.

COVID and changes to working habits has “led to worsening in Torbay’s housing crisis,” says local Liberal Democrat Councillor Swithin Long, “with many people being evicted from their rented homes so that their properties could be sold.”

According to the estate agency Hamptons, several areas experienced a marked increase in Londoners purchasing local properties in 2020, including Sevenoaks, Windsor and Maidenhead, Oxford, Rushmoor, and Eastbourne. In 2020, 62% of homes in Sevenoaks – a small town on the south-eastern periphery of the capital – were bought by a Londoner. Sevenoaks is just a 25-minute train journey from London Bridge on the southern bank of the Thames.

“The attractions of moving to the more remote parts of Kent become compelling if it means moving from London with a hefty profit from a house sale,” Professor Richard Scase of the University of Kent wrote last year. “But there is a price that has to be paid, and it is by local young people and their housing needs. The number of ‘affluent’ workers moving from London puts homeownership out of their reach. It means a life of rented accommodation or relocation from one town or community to another because of the availability of cheaper housing.”

He added that: “Perhaps importantly, house moves of this kind remove young couples with their children from their family support systems... often leading to stress and family breakdown, with the state having to pick up the costs and the pieces.”

An Uncertain Future

Cornwall knows these problems better than most. The county’s picturesque seaside towns have long been overrun by despondent city dwellers seeking a new life near the beach. In 2016, the average house price in picturesque St Ives was £324,000, reported the Guardian, 18 times the typical local salary.

“I’ve got people in my area who are living in cars because they’ve been booted out of their houses so that the landlords can put them on Airbnb over the summer,” says Kate Ewert, a Labour councillor for Rame and St Germans in east Cornwall. “It’s heart-breaking. These are people who just want to live in the community where they were born. They want to live close to their mum and their gran, but they’re being told they basically can’t live here.”

However, the Centre for Cities does caution that we don’t yet know the full impact of the pandemic. Its chief executive, Andrew Carter, told Byline Times that, “The recovery from the pandemic is still in its early stages so we cannot be certain that any developing trends will have a long-term impact on the housing market.”

This is echoed by Dr Frances Holliss, emeritus reader in Architecture at London Metropolitan University, who says that we’re in “completely unknown territory”. However, Dr Holliss added that “having researched this for 20 years”, she anticipates rises in property prices in satellite towns.

“This is bad for people in the lowest 40% of the income brackets, only 10% of whom are property owners,” she says. “And so it will make ownership of property less reachable for those people. But having said that, it will bring wealth into the community and with it will come employment.”

New research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research anticipates that the 10 fastest growing places in the country by 2023 will be in the south east and the east of England. This will create a lot of economic heat, potentially creating new job opportunities, but also invariably, it seems, inflaming local property markets.

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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‘Levelling-Up’ Is Dying in Johnson’s Desert of Ideas

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/05/2022 - 9:48pm in

As the nation nears the three year mark of Johnson’s Government, it’s time to be honest about the collapse of his flagship project, says Sam Bright

We live in an era when the absolutist statements of populist politicians are rarely matched by equally forthright criticism by the media.

Boris Johnson could promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’, for example – pledging to see through the biggest change to the UK’s constitutional, economic and regional makeup for generations – and yet Brexit has sidled off the mainstream news agenda. Northern Ireland is in a state of political paralysis, our international trade has been depressed, but Johnson’s Brexit fallacies still reign supreme.

This is similarly the case with ‘levelling up’ – the Government’s flagship plan to rebalance the fortunes of our nations and regions. Once again, Johnson’s rhetoric has been bold. In a flagship speech on the subject in July 2021, he presciently suggested that the UK was only “firing on one cylinder” – referring to the disproportionate economic power of London and the south east.

The Government’s levelling up white paper released in February – designed to sketch-out Johnson’s agenda in more detail – continued this rhetorical zeal, using analogies from Renaissance Italy to inform its 12 levelling up ‘missions’.

However, these words collapse under intellectual pressure. Only four of these missions will have a measurable impact on regional inequality, according to the Institute for Government, while Johnson actually plans to spend less on English regional development than either of his immediate predecessors – Theresa May and David Cameron – according to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Henri Murison, who runs the think tank, says that much of the Government’s levelling up agenda will be fundamentally “undermined through a lack of funding”.

This intellectual sinkhole opened up further in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday, during which the Government announced its short-term plans for levelling up. This included announcing a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, focused on local planning and the devolution of powers.

The Government’s proposals are thin on the ground. In fact, wafer thin. The bill includes five ‘main elements’, one of which is to give “residents more of a say over changing street names and ensuring everyone can continue to benefit from al fresco dining”. Instead of providing lifeboats, the Government is encouraging Brits to dine on the decks of a rapidly submerging ship.

As in the case of the white paper, the Government’s only bold, progressive proposal is to devolve more power to local and regional authorities – under the promise that “every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified long-term funding settlement.” In the short-term, the Government plans to negotiate 10 new devolution deals in England, and has promised extra powers to Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and to Andy Street in the West Midlands.

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Levelling Down

The problem is: these facts are confined to think tank reports and the columns of broadsheet newspapers. When Boris Johnson said that he was going to level up the country, this slogan was splashed by every tabloid newspaper and news channel. The unravelling of his plan, however, is only carried in whispers.

Yet, the reality is stark: levelling up is failing. It took the Government more than two years to produce its white paper, despite the prominence of levelling up in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto.

During this time, the circumstances of the poorest in Britain have deteriorated. The most deprived and diverse communities were disproportionately saddled with the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. Among 20 peer countries, the UK suffered the second largest fall in life expectancy from 2019 to 2021, concentrated in poorer areas.

Researchers at the University of Manchester calculated that, between March and December 2020, 1,645 years of life were lost per 100,000 people in the most deprived areas of England and Wales, compared to 916 years of life per 100,000 in the most affluent. In other words, almost twice as many years of life were lost in the poorest areas of the country compared with the wealthiest.

The UK’s structural inequalities encompass every aspect of public policy. So, while the Conservatives may now be attempting to frame ‘levelling up’ purely in the realms of planning reform and devolution – hoping the media will buy this narrative – attention is diverted away from the burgeoning inequalities suffered by the most disadvantaged.

This process is only set to intensify through the cost of living crisis, that will torpedo the Government’s regional rebalancing rallying cry, in the absence of administrative action.

A further 250,000 households will be in extreme poverty next year, taking the overall figure to 1.2 million, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

The Trussell Trust delivered 2.1 million food parcels (including more than 830,000 parcels provided for children) to people facing financial hardship across the country, from April 2021 to March 2022. This represented an increase of 14% compared to 2019/2020 and double the number provided in 2014/15.

Just today, Bloomberg has released an analysis showing that, in nine out of 12 metrics, the performance of most constituencies relative to London and the south-east of England is now worse or unchanged compared to 2019.

Meanwhile, as the economy overheats – causing an inflationary spike – London has turned into a furness. Already the most expensive place to live in the country – since 2010, average private rental prices in London have grown at five times the rate of average earnings – the capital has placed even more financial pressure on its inhabitants in recent months. According to Rightmove, average rents in London reached £2,193 a month in March, a 14.3% rise from £1,919 last year and the largest annual increase in any region since records began.

Some 30% of people are in the private rental market in London – a higher proportion than any other nation or region – whereas only 10% of Londoners were private renters in the 1980s.

House prices propel poverty rates in the capital. While London has comfortably the highest wages in the country, it also has the highest rates of poverty, by virtue of its obscene property costs. If all the people in poverty in London formed a new city, it would be the second largest conurbation in the UK – and twice the size of Birmingham.

Yet, while the Housing Minister Stuart Andrew yesterday said that London needs 100,000 new homes a year to keep up with demand, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove simultaneously seemed to drop the Government’s target to build 300,000 homes across the country every year.

In this desert of ideas, the poorest parts of the country – in the north, the south, and in the devolved nations – continue to become sicker and poorer.

Johnson’s Government has run out of ideas, instead ruling through the division of its contrived culture war conflicts – hoping that journalists continue to play along, failing to expose the empty slogans that encase his betrayed promises.

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Local Elections 2022: A False Dawn? Labour’s Success in London Masks its Deeper Problems

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/05/2022 - 9:23pm in

Labour’s local election performance spells danger for the party, argues Sam Bright

I awoke this morning to a frenzy of jubilation on social media – from London-based Labour activists, celebrating the party’s historic electoral success in the capital.

“A new dawn has broken, has it not?” one posted, seemingly referencing Tony Blair’s 1997 General Election landslide.

Labour has undoubtedly seen some remarkable results in the capital, following yesterday’s local elections. Wandsworth, Barnet and Westminster councils have all fallen to Keir Starmer’s party, after years – even decades – of Conservative rule.

However, with the Labour Party, there must always be a caveat.

“London will be even more clearly a one-party fiefdom,” says elections expert Professor John Curtice. “But outside London, as compared with 2018, when the seats were last contested, it looks like Labour’s vote is actually down slightly.”

Indeed, Labour went into the night expecting to lose seats overall in England outside London, and that appears to have been the case.

The so-called ‘Red Wall’ is a consideration here – the bloc of former industrial Labour seats that flipped to the Conservatives in 2019. The seats contested yesterday were last fought in 2018, and so Labour’s relatively stable showing in the north has been interpreted as the party improving its performance from the last general election.

But this analysis neglects several important factors.

Primarily, Labour lost three consecutive elections prior to 2019, even though it retained the bulk of its Red Wall seats. Theresa May’s Conservatives won a narrow majority of seats in 2017, with the assistance of the Democratic Unionist Party, even though Labour’s support climbed in some former industrial areas.

To interpret Labour’s performance, we therefore need to look both beyond London and the Red Wall.

The party’s decline as an electoral force has coincided directly with its demise in Scotland. In 2005, Labour won 41 of the 59 available Westminster seats in Scotland and 39.5% of the vote share. At the 2019 General Election, however, the party won a solitary seat in Scotland – Edinburgh South – and 18.6% of the national vote.

Though the results of this year’s elections in Scotland are behind England, the polls suggest that Labour will replace the Conservatives as the party of opposition, while the dominant Scottish National Party (SNP) will largely maintain its position.

Labour’s path to power runs through Scotland – either in the form of mass Labour gains, or a pact with the SNP. The latest Britain Elects general election polling tracker has Labour 30 seats short of a Westminster majority, with the Liberal Democrats winning 18 seats and the SNP on 55.

In fact, if Labour doesn’t make up significant ground north of the English border – or agree a deal with the SNP – Starmer’s party would need to win North East Somerset from Jacob Rees-Mogg (who currently has a 36% majority) in order to walk into Downing Street as the single party of government.

Camping in the Fortress

Labour’s performance in these local elections presents another danger: the risk that the party will become further entrenched in its ideological heartland – London.

Over recent years, Labour’s support has fortified in diverse, liberal metropolitan hubs – particularly in the all-consuming capital. Roughly a-quarter of sitting Labour MPs represent a London constituency, despite the capital only accounting for some 13% of the UK population.

As described by Maria Sobolewska and Robert Ford in Brexitland, by 2015 Labour represented 67 of the 75 seats in England and Wales where the white population share was below 75%. These MPs also carried overwhelming local support, boasting an average majority of 30%. 2015 was the first election in which liberal identity groups outnumbered conservative identity groups among Labour voters – signalling the direction of travel within the party towards a more urban composition and outlook.

Labour has a problem in towns and rural areas – and these local election results do not show a marked abatement of that trend. As the Fabian Society pointed out in a 2018 report, 61% of surveyed people in rural England and Wales said that Labour does not understand people who live in the local area, compared to 45% in ‘town and fringe’ areas and 39% in urban Britain.

“Labour’s association with cities leads to an association of Labour with urban snobbery towards rural areas – a sentiment that was shared almost unanimously by participants in all focus groups,” the report stated.

In the south-west, for example, the Liberal Democrats have been mounting a charge against the Conservatives, logging big gains. This will act to Labour’s benefit overall, stripping the Tories of seats. But Labour’s concentration in London risks skewing the party’s mindset even more towards the beliefs embodied by the capital – a place that is ostracised from the rest of the country and therefore poses a danger to the progressive movement.

London is more liberal, more diverse, better educated, more wealthy (and more impoverished) than anywhere else in the country – a political and demographic outlier.

The non-white British population constitutes 55% of the capital, compared to just 20% in the second most diverse region, the West Midlands. Statistics produced by the Office for National Statistics in 2020 suggest that, of the 50 places with the highest disposable incomes in England and Wales, 41 were in London. The capital also has the highest rates of poverty in the country. If London’s impoverished formed a city of their own, it would comfortably be the second-largest in the UK.

If, in the hysteria of its electoral successes in the capital, Labour further absorbs the ideological composition of London, it will continue to alienate towns and rural areas – or, at the very least, it will not be able to recover these seats in sufficient numbers to win a general election.

Taken as a whole, this year’s local election results merely uphold Labour’s direction of travel since 2010.

In 2019, Labour’s share of the vote increased in just 13 seats – 2% of all House of Commons constituencies. These seats were characterised by a relatively large number of black and ethnic minority voters, a significant number of professional workers, relatively high levels of deprivation, situated in or around large cities – especially in London. 

In short: Labour gained votes in London, lost some votes in other cities, and haemorrhaged support in all other areas. The continuation of these trends in 2022 – albeit with a modest uplift in support relative to 2019 – shows that Labour has not become a potent electoral force.

An Opportunity

We must also keep in mind the scale of Labour’s task. To win the number of seats needed to form a majority at the next election, Labour must increase its number of MPs by more than 60% – a feat that has never been achieved by any major party.

Yet, to stand a fighting chance at the next election, Labour must resist its retrenchment to London. Its path to victory runs through the north, and it must quickly establish how to win over Scotland – or how to align with the SNP without alienating England.

However, in this regard, the Conservatives may present Labour with an opportunity. Boris Johnson’s ‘Partygate’ antics, and the prevarications of Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross – first calling for Johnson to resign, before backing the Prime Minister – looks set to give Labour a firm foothold in Scotland.

Additionally, it seems likely that the migration of ‘Blue Wall’ seats to the Liberal Democrats will prompt the further dilution of Johnson’s flagship ‘levelling up’ agenda.

“The Government is evidently letting politics drive levelling up,” Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said in an interview for my book, Fortress London.

Burnham notes that, since the Conservative Party’s loss to the Liberal Democrats at the Chesham and Amersham by-election in June 2021 – a model Blue Wall constituency – the Government has stretched the scope of levelling up beyond the Red Wall, increasingly applying the term to the south as well as the north. 

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“Without being cynical, levelling up is the right theme – but it has got to be done in the right places and in the right way – and not so broad that it becomes meaningless,” Burnham told me. “If anything, we’re in retreat from where Johnson was a couple of years ago. The question is how far in retreat.”

In other words, in order to stem its losses in the south, the Government may diminish or even dispense with its pledge to invest disproportionately in former industrial areas – instead redirecting funds to the Home Counties.

On this front, Labour must be ruthless. It must pore over the Government’s plan and expose its contradictions – showing unequivocally that Johnson’s sloganeering will not provide economic sustenance to the midlands or the north. And Labour must develop a compelling alternative agenda – speaking to the cultural conservatism and the economic radicalism of voters who are increasingly disenfranchised with mainstream politics.

Above all else, Keir Starmer must realise that Labour has entrenched its support in London for the last decade – and has lost four consecutive general elections. The party’s success in the capital will generate a lot of noise, but the next election will not be won in London – and, right now, it appears that the party’s former heartlands are still not willing to hand Labour the keys to power.

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Local Elections 2022: Boris Johnson is Leading the Conservatives to Disaster

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/05/2022 - 4:50pm in

The Conservative Party is refusing to deal with the Prime Minister's failing leadership as he leads the UK into a recession which could expel him from office, reports Adam Bienkov

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Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party have suffered a terrible night in the local elections, losing votes right across the country, as well as the control of several flagship councils in London.

Margaret Thatcher's favourite council Wandsworth was the first to fall to Labour, with fellow Conservative stronghold Barnet following shortly after. 

However, it was the loss of Westminster Council that has caused the biggest shock overnight. Even the most optimistic Labour sources Byline Times spoke to in recent days had downplayed their chances of taking this council, which has been held by the Conservatives since its creation.

The London losses are totemic for the party.

The party's former leaders in Wandsworth and Westminster were both hired by Johnson as his chiefs of staff while he was London Mayor, while their boroughs were portrayed as a model for his own future premiership. His two victories in London also helped create the myth of him as a 'Heineken' politician who could reach voters that other Conservative politicians simply couldn’t.

Last night’s results have ended that myth. Across the city, Conservative politicians spoke out against the Prime Minister, with the party’s outgoing leader in Wandsworth saying that “the issue of Boris Johnson” had been raised “consistently” by voters.

Meanwhile, Conservative MP for Wimbledon, Stephen Hammond, said that his party's voters had deserted them in large numbers due to Johnson’s handling of the 'Partygate' scandal.

Yet, while voters across the country are clearly turning against the Prime Minister, the results suggest that there is not yet evidence of any great enthusiasm for Keir Starmer's leadership. Although Labour’s vote share is up on last year, it appears to be broadly unchanged from its performance in the 2018 elections. Its performance also appears to have been decidedly more mixed in those parts of northern England it lost to Johnson's party in 2019.

Overall, the picture in these elections is that voters are turning away from the Conservatives rather than turning in great numbers to Labour.

Johnson Sailing Conservatives Towards the Rocks

However, this last fact risks lulling the Conservative Party into a false sense of security that could cost them dearly at the next general election.

The fact that Labour’s overall performance does not yet indicate a party heading towards forming a majority government will give many Conservative MPs yet another excuse to avoid tackling their own leadership crisis.

Across the news channels overnight, Conservative ministers queued up to dismiss the results as mere mid-term blues that could be easily recovered by the party. This would be a mistake.

The big losses suffered by the Conservatives overnight were due in large part to the Prime Minister's own unpopularity. While Conservative campaigners right across the country avoided mentioning the Prime Minister on the doorstep, opposition parties featured his name heavily on their leaflets and doorstep pitches.

Speaking at the result of Labour’s victory in Wandsworth, London Mayor Sadiq Khan described that Prime Minister as “a vote-winner for Labour” in the capital.

In other parts of the country, campaigners from all parties told Byline Times that Partygate had turned Conservative voters against the Prime Minister, with older voters in particular seeing the issue as one of “morality” in which Johnson had fallen short.

The Prime Minister's character failures, which were exposed so vividly by that scandal, do not appear to be going away.

Asked by Good Morning Britain this week about a pensioner who had been forced to ride buses all day because she could not afford to heat her home, Johnson responded by boasting about his own role in introducing the 24-hour free bus pass. This response was both callous and dishonest. In reality, the pass is only available in London where it is funded by local boroughs, and it was slashed at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic due to a deal forced on the city by Johnson’s Government. 

This cost of living crisis is also only going to get worse. The Bank of England on Thursday suggested that the UK is heading for recession and a painful period of stagflation. This would be difficult for any government which has been in power for as long as this one has, but it will be even more difficult for one that has deliberately chosen to avoid using the powers it has to help people.

Johnson's refusal to help those suffering from surging energy prices or to raise the benefits of the nation's poorest people, will only make his party's prospects worse at the next election.

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As the leading elections expert Professor John Curtice told Byline Times this week, while Labour may not currently be on course to winning a parliamentary majority, it will not take much for Johnson to lose his. And once lost, it will be very hard for him to find the friends in Parliament he needs to sustain a Conservative administration.

This fact has led to some speculation that Johnson is planning to call an early general election, potentially as early as this summer.

There will be very few Conservative MPs looking at today’s results who would welcome such a prospect. However, as long as Boris Johnson remains in post, their prospects will only continue to deteriorate.

Speaking to Byline Times earlier this week, one Conservative MP and former Cabinet minister said that the party was now “strapped well and truly to be the mast of the good ship Boris”.

The message from these local elections is that, unless there is a sudden change in course, the entire Conservative Party risks going down with the ship.

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Boris Johnson has Not Been a ‘Great War Leader’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/05/2022 - 10:53pm in

The claim that the Prime Minister has shown Churchillian solidarity with Ukraine does not stand up to scrutiny, says Sam Bright

Even as this year’s local elections approach, much focus is still trained on Ukraine – which continues to valiantly resist the march of Vladimir Putin’s fascism.

Indeed, the war in Ukraine has acute relevance to the domestic campaign, with Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party using their response to the conflict as proof that they can be trusted to lead the country – despite the ‘Partygate’ scandal.

Undoubtedly, Britain’s military response has been generous and swift. The UK has responded to the calls of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and has deployed more than 5,000 anti-tank missiles, five air defence systems – as well as other munitions and explosives – to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in mid-February. In recent days, the Government has also pledged an additional £300 million in military aid.

President Zelensky told reporters in mid-April that “we want more than we’re being given, but we’re satisfied. We cannot refuse or reject anything during the war from the biggest military aid, which is coming from the United States and the United Kingdom... I’m grateful for it”.

But, as Johnson himself acknowledges, Russia’s aggression did not begin in February this year – it is merely a continuation and an extension of the war it has been fighting since 2013/14, when Putin annexed Crimea in the east of Ukraine.

Speaking to the Ukrainian Parliament yesterday, Johnson admitted: “We who are your friends must be humble about what happened in in 2014, because Ukraine was invaded before for the first time, when Crimea was taken from Ukraine and the war in the Donbas began.

"The truth is that we were too slow to grasp what was really happening and we collectively failed to impose the sanctions then that we should have put on Vladimir Putin. We cannot make the same mistake again.”

Despite seemingly acknowledging the UK’s failure to stop Putin, these statements are a form of historical revisionism.

Firstly, Johnson is distributing the blame across the West, diluting the culpability of successive Conservative governments that have not only been slow to react to Putin’s threats, but have been fuelling Putin’s war machine.

The world has known about Putin’s expansionist pretensions since his invasion of Georgia in 2008, but this didn't stop the Conservative Party from both directly and indirectly assisting his campaigns.

In terms of direct assistance, the UK approved £54.9 million of military export licenses to Russia between 2010 and 2014 – the value of arms allowed to be sold to the country by private firms – compared to just £17 million approved to Ukraine.

As catalogued by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, successive Conservative governments also allowed Russian money to flood London – a place in which “PR firms, charities, political interests, academia and cultural institutions [are] all willing beneficiaries of Russian money”.

Since 2008, £100 billion worth of London property has been bought by overseas companies based in so-called ‘secrecy jurisdictions’ – the “favoured vehicle for money launderers”, according to Transparency International.

The Government also rapidly expanded its ‘golden visa’ scheme after 2008 – welcoming thousands of wealthy Russian ‘investors’ into the country with minimal due diligence checks. More than 2,500 golden visas have been granted to Russian investors since 2008, with more than 750 of these individuals granted permanent settlement in the UK.

The scheme was a money laundering risk prior to 2015, experts say, due to the lax rules applied to potential investors. The Government has announced that all the golden visas granted prior to 2015 will be reviewed, though no deadline has been set on the publication of its findings, and the scheme has recently been abolished.

In contrast, from January 2014 to December 2021, only 30 Ukrainians were granted asylum by the UK.

This lack of due diligence has also been witnessed in the case of Conservative Party donations – with more than £2 million given to the party from Russian-linked sources since Johnson took over as party leader in July 2019, and more than £4.8 million accepted from seven wealthy Russian benefactors since 2012.

However, when Byline Times asked the Conservatives how these donors were vetted, no response was forthcoming.

Meanwhile, aside from accepting their money, the Conservative Party has developed a close relationship with several wealthy Russians.

Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Putin’s former deputy finance minister, has donated millions to the party over the past decade and was recently revealed to be a member of a secret Downing Street ‘advisory board’ – a little known collective of wealthy individuals granted exclusive access to power.

Johnson also ennobled media baron Evgeny Lebedev – the son of a former KGB spy – with the title Baron Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia, and reportedly lent on the security services to drop their concerns about his appointment.

To add insult to injury, the UK was planning on slashing foreign aid to Ukraine this year – a symptom of its decision to cut aid spending as a proportion of Gross National Income from 0.7% to 0.5%. The Government’s contribution to the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund (CSSF) – a fund designed to support activities to prevent instability in countries with UK interests – has also been cut from £1.4 billion to £874 million.

The Prime Minister hasn’t addressed any of these issues – and has been conspicuously quiet about the vast sums of money piled into the Conservative Party by Russian donors. He hasn’t pledged to clean up the city of London or to make it more difficult for oligarchs to influence our politics – in fact quite the opposite.

Moreover, while he was Mayor of London from 2008 to 2016, Johnson positively encouraged the encampment of suspicious wealth in the City of London – boasting that the English capital was the greatest city on earth because it had the most billionaires.

“I do not in any way want to deter international investment in our city. Quite the reverse: I want to encourage it,” Johnson said in 2014. “You can see astonishing transformations taking place in London thanks to international investment. We would be utterly nuts as a society if we did anything to turn that away.”

When serving as Mayor of London, Johnson also encouraged oligarchs to sue and divorce using London’s courts – a practice that has, more recently, allowed billionaire Russians to sue British journalists.

Reality and Performance

While the UK Government’s military response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion has been applauded, there are reasons for scepticism.

Reports today suggest that Boris Johnson’s chief of staff blocked an attempt by the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to increase UK military spending during the immediate onset of the invasion.

The UK was also slower than the EU and the US to apply sanctions to Russian oligarchs. Two weeks into the conflict, fewer than 20 Russian oligarchs had been sanctioned by the UK Government – 130 fewer than had been sanctioned by the EU. 

Keir Giles, senior consulting fellow on the Russia and Eurasia Programme at the Chatham House think tank, said: “On sanctions, there needs to be a greater effort to show that there is a will to grip the problem of Russian money in London. We see that Russia squeals loudest when personal fortunes are threatened.”

The UK has also, infamously, shown a tight-fisted attitude to people seeking asylum from Ukraine – lagging far behind other European countries. Indeed, a legal challenge is now being mounted on behalf of 800 Ukrainians facing visa delays through the Homes for Ukraine scheme – claiming that the Home Office’s muddled response is putting refugees in danger.

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The UK’s military response has appeared to be swift, perhaps only because the response of Europe and America has been relatively slow. There is nothing to suggest that Johnson and his administration have acted exceptionally nor that any other British regime would have acted differently.

There are geopolitical circumstances in America and Europe – namely anti-war sentiments in the former and energy dependence in the latter – that have constrained elements of their response to the war. These structural issues are not seen so acutely in the UK – thus facilitating a more nimble response.

Johnson has also been praised for his rhetoric, and his performative solidarity with Zelensky’s war effort – visiting Kyiv on 9 April. However, again, this wasn’t an exceptional act. Ursula von der Leyen, Head of the European Commission, visited Zelensky in Kyiv the day before – though her meeting was given far less attention by the Westminster tabloids.

Ultimately, Boris Johnson has assisted Putin’s war campaign in some ways during the last 14 years – particularly allowing the creation of ‘Londongrad’ during his time in City Hall. This has been aided and abetted by a Conservative Party that has fortified an economic pipeline running from Moscow to London – a record that has only been partially reversed by the Prime Minister's benevolent application of military aid to Ukraine over the last two months.

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The Shocking Divides Between London and the Rest of Britain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/04/2022 - 8:30pm in

Sam Bright details some of the key findings from his new book, on the extreme imbalances between London and other parts of the country

Modern British politics can only be properly understood in the context of regional inequality. Both Brexit and the 2019 General Election, we have come to understand, were outbursts of rage from older, poorer, less well educated voters in rural and former industrial areas who are sick of the status quo – of their areas deteriorating while other places prosper.

However, while much of this conversation focuses on the ‘Red Wall’ and the fabled north-south divide, a formative regional inequality in Britain has been neglected: between London and everywhere else.

Indeed, our all-consuming capital is a vast metropolis with little in common with other urban areas. Its education system, economic output, housing market and demographic make-up are all radically different to the rest of the country – creating acute imbalances that are suffered by people both inside and outside the capital.

I have been researching this subject for the past few years, culminating in my book, published today, Fortress London: Why We Need to Save the Country From its Capital. Below is a snapshot of what I discovered.

Economy

Productivity in London, measured in terms of Gross Value Added, is 30% above the England-wide average, and 40% above the lowest-performing regions.

Gross disposable household income per head in London was £30,256 in 2018 – nearly double the total in Yorkshire and the Humber (£17,959). Ergo, for every minute on the roughly two-hour train journey from the capital to God’s own country, household income per head falls by £102. 

In 2017, disposable income per head in east Germany was €19,909 per year; in west Germany it was €23,283 – a smaller economic gap than between London and the rest of the UK.

The UK’s most productive region, west inner London, has an income per hour that is 70% higher than Northumberland’s, while London and the wider south-east are the only regions that are more productive than the UK average.

As of 2018, London accounted for 30% of all private sector employment in the UK, despite its population representing roughly 15% of the national total.

From 2009/10 to 2019/20, London transport spending per head on average has been £864 – compared to £379 in the north-west of England and £413 in England overall.

Education

Kids on free school meals in London are twice as likely to go to university as their socioeconomic peers in the north.

Overall, 49% of students in London go to university, compared with roughly 35% in every other English region. 

In the most deprived areas of London, 35% of secondary schools are classified as outstanding and close to 90% are either good or outstanding. In the most deprived areas of the north, less than 10% are rated as outstanding and less than 50% are either good or outstanding.

There are eight parliamentary constituencies in England where there are no schools or sixth form colleges – either independent or state-run – offering A-Levels. Six of these constituencies are in the north.

Property Market

In 2020, the average house price in London stood at £497,000 – almost double the England-wide average of £262,000. In Yorkshire, the figure was £175,000, in the north-west £177,000, and £275,000 in the south-west.

The average house price in Kensington and Chelsea in March 2020 was £1.4 million, in Islington it was £632,000 and in Southwark it was £489,000. This compares to £200,000 in Manchester, £220,000 in Leeds and just £165,000 in Durham.

If two people each bought a house in 1980 for £50,000 – one in London and one in Yorkshire – the former would have accumulated £400,000 more in property assets by 2020, with the house likely to be worth £770,000 in London and the house in Yorkshire worth £380,000.

If food prices had tracked house price inflation, in London a chicken would now cost £100, says Anna Minton in Big Capital.

Since 2010, average private rental prices in London have grown at five times the rate of average earnings. The typical rent for a one-bed flat in London now exceeds the cost on average for a three-bed place in every other English region.

In London, a home within 500 metres of an outstanding primary school will set you back an average of £685,000 – a premium of £93,000 versus a home in close proximity to a ‘good’ school and £196,000 more, on average, than a home in the catchment of a school that ‘requires improvement’.

Total property equity in London and the south-east amounts to some £1.53 trillion, versus £533 billion in the north.

In 1990, 25% of people aged 16 to 24 owned their own home in London, falling to 7% by 2018; correlating with a fall in the 25-34 age bracket from 57% to 34% over the same period.

From 1996-98 to 2014-15, the capital saw a 41% increase in young people living with their parents.

The percentage of first-time buyers in the capital receiving parental help has fluctuated in recent years between 25% and 40% – consistently 10 percentage points higher than the rest of England.

Almost 25,000 London homes were left unoccupied in 2020 – the highest figure since 2012 – at an estimated total worth of £11 billion. Homelessness and rough sleeping rates rose by 165% in England between 2010 and 2018.

Transparency International has calculated that at least £6.7 billion worth of property in the UK has been bought with suspicious wealth since 2016 – more than 80% purchased in London. Out of the £6.7 billion, £1.5 billion has been bought by Russians accused of corruption or links to the Kremlin, with these individuals favouring the City of Westminster (accounting for £430 million, or 28.3%) and Kensington and Chelsea (£283 million or 18.8%).

Poverty

The number of people living in poverty in London (some 2.5 million) is only slightly smaller than the entire population of Greater Manchester.

Life expectancy is some 16 years lower for men in the most deprived areas of Kensington and Chelsea than in the least deprived areas.

The poorest 50% of Londoners hold just 6.8% of the capital’s wealth, while the top 10% retain 42.5%.

As of 2020, 28% of people in London were living in poverty, after housing costs, compared to 22% in the UK as a whole.

Some 74% of impoverished adults in the capital are in working families, up from 62% a decade ago. In the three years to 2016, 39% of private renters in London and 46% of social renters were in poverty, falling to 12% among owner-occupiers.

From 2014 to 2019, the number of children in the north of England living in a poor household increased by 200,000 – taking the total figure to 800,000. Over the same period, weekly pay increased by only 2.4% in the north versus 3.5% nationally.

Child poverty increased by 16% in the Red Wall from 2014/15 to 2019/20 – double the England-wide average. Child poverty in the north-east increased from 26% to 36.9 per cent in this period, while it fell in the south-east, from 24% to 23.8%, and only marginally increased in the south-west – from 26% to 26.1%.

Sam Bright’s book, ‘Fortress London: Why We Need to Save the Country From its Capital’, is published by HarperCollins

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Britain’s Foreign Media Oligarchy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/04/2022 - 12:59am in

While right-wing media outlets cheerlead Boris Johnson’s closed-borders nationalism, their owners have extensive foreign corporate links, reports Sam Bright

Attention has been focused over the last few weeks – and indeed the last few years – on the influence of foreign forces in the UK.

Just today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a new asylum policy, whereby some asylum seekers journeying to the UK via the Channel will be sent to Rwanda, rather than having their claims assessed in Britain.

This contrasts with the Government’s rhetoric towards asylum seekers from Ukraine, who are fleeing Vladimir Putin’s bombs in their millions. “We will continue to make sure that we have a very, very generous approach,” to these prospective refugees, Johnson has said, although the Government’s support has been less forthcoming than many other countries in Europe, in large part due to institutional incompetence.

Before this, the Conservative Party had been facing pressing questions over its role in facilitating the attempts of Russian oligarchs to launder their money and wealth through the UK. Parliament’s Security and Intelligence Committee described in 2020 how ‘Londongrad’ represented a key outpost for dirty Russian money – a process that had been aided by recent governments that awarded visas to rich ‘investors’ with few questions asked.

This debate has manifested in recent days through stories about oligarchs at the top of the British Government – with journalists revealing that multi-millionaire Rishi Sunak held a ‘Green Card’ in the United States for a year during his chancellorship, while his wife retains ‘non-dom’ status. Both of these mechanisms are a way of legally circumventing British tax requirements.

In Tory Britain, therefore, acceptable migrants are oligarchs buying up London mansions and cleaning their dirty money – while unacceptable migrants are desperate people fleeing the wars that the oligarchs have helped to create.

This perception has been sustained by the right-wing press, that has been eager to demonise migrants – particularly those from Europe – in recent years. However, an inspection of right-wing press ownership shows that they maintain foreign corporate links, contradicting their small-island nationalism.

The Telegraph and The Spectator

A former employer of Boris Johnson, the Telegraph has been particularly vocal in recent years about Brexit – a project designed to limit EU immigration to the UK. Also a former employer (Johnson was formerly the magazine’s editor), the Spectator has been a leading force in the ‘culture war’ designed to reinforce English nationalism.

The ultimate owner of both publications is Sir Frederick Barclay, who lives on Brecqhou, a private island in the Channel Islands. Sir Frederick formerly owned the paper alongside his brother, Sir David Barclay, who died last year and also lived on the island.

It’s also believed that the brothers lived for some of the year in Monaco, which is a renowned low-tax jurisdiction.

When questioned in 2012 about running UK companies from abroad, Sir David said that: “We have not attended office, management or board meetings in the UK since leaving the country... My brother and I have no editorial, political or economic power in the UK.”

The Spectator is controlled by Press Holdings, based in Jersey – a jurisdiction ranked as the seventh most “aggressive” tax haven in the world in 2019, according to the Tax Justice Network. There is no evidence that the Spectator or Press Holdings use their presence on Jersey to limit their UK tax contributions.

Neither the Telegraph nor the Spectator responded to Byline Times’ request for comment.

Daily Mail

Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail, shares similarities with Rishi Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murthy, in his possession of ‘non-dom’ status.

Rothermere has said that his non-dom status is derived from his father formerly having lived in Paris.

“He has strong links with France and spends a great deal of time there. His father was a resident of France for over 30 years,” a spokesperson told Byline Times. “He receives absolutely zero tax advantage and pays UK tax on his worldwide income and capital gains. Lord Rothermere is not an elected official and does not receive a salary from the UK taxpayer; while DMGT has always paid its full weight of UK corporate tax.”

The Daily Mail’s parent company, Daily Mail and General Trust, is owned by the Jersey-based holding company Rothermere Continuation Limited.

Evening Standard and Independent

While the Evening Standard and the Independent lean towards the liberal-left in their day-to-day coverage, they have both prominently backed Boris Johnson in his recent political campaigns – the former paper declaring in 2019 that “we back Boris as the PM to turn Britain around”.

The owner of both publications, Evgeny Lebedev, is a personal friend of the Prime Minister – with Johnson regularly spending weekends at the Lebedev palazzo in Perugia, Umbria. Lebedev has been appointed by Johnson to the House of Lords under the title ‘Baron Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia’ – seemingly contradicting the advice of the security services.

Lebedev was born in Russia and is the son of former KGB spy and one-time-billionaire financier Alexander Lebedev. While he is now a British citizen, Evgeny has in recent years continued to hold close ties to Moscow.

The Sun, talkRADIO, TalkTV & the Times

All of the above are owned by Rupert Murdoch – the Australian-American media tycoon. The News UK stable is also set to launch its newest outlet in the coming weeks, TalkTV – a broadcasting platform that will also distribute its shows on the Fox News spin-off service Fox Nation in the US and on Sky News Australia.

GB News

TalkTV will be a direct rival to GB News – the right-wing broadcaster that launched last year with the temporary support of Andrew Neil, chairman of the Spectator, who notoriously now lives in the south of France.

GB News was backed with £60 million in venture capital investment from a range of rich foreign interests, largely based in the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

This isn’t to say that foreign investment in UK companies is inherently wrong. Rather, there is a hypocrisy in the ethos of GB News – and the vast majority of the outlets listed above – which claim to stand up for the ordinary, left-behind Brit while soliciting millions from wealthy international owners and investors, some of which are based in tax havens.

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How Johnson’s Government is Using Oligarchs in its Attempt to Rebuild the ‘Red Wall’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 9:11pm in

Sam Bright and Sascha Lavin explore how the Government is inviting questionable regimes into Britain’s former industrial heartlands

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If the second half of the 20th Century and the first 10 years of the 21st represented the age of affluence in Britain and America, the period since the financial crisis of 2008 has been marked by stagnation and inequality.

In the UK, real wages have flatlined while state spending has been retrenched. Unlike the post-war period, when economic growth heralded an era of mass prosperity – a period of enduring abundance – the rising tide of GDP no longer lifts all boats.

With prosperity now in shorter supply, people pay closer attention to the concentration and imbalances of wealth – both in terms of social class and region. This was exposed through the Brexit referendum, with people in ‘left-behind’ areas of the country protesting against their relative deprivation – in terms of education, infrastructure and industry – compared to the UK’s thriving metropolitan hubs.

The architects of Brexit were scorned for predicting that the ‘dividends’ of the project would not be seen for decades, but there is a reason these gloomy forecasts didn’t repel voters in the 'Red Wall': people thought that short-term pain was necessary, in order to re-orientate an economy that didn’t serve their interests.

Since the era of deindustrialisation, the status quo has delivered the slow breakdown of pride and prosperity in these places. In their view, at least Brexit promised some light at the end of the long tunnel.

And, if Brexit has shown that raw economic growth is only valuable if it’s accompanied by certain terms and conditions, so has the war in Ukraine. The UK is now desperately attempting to decouple itself from the Russian economy, after the years it spent awarding ‘golden visas’ to Russian oligarchs and allowing Vladimir Putin’s men to exploit our courts.

As Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee said in its 2019 report on Russian interference in British politics:

“Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal’, and there are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth. This level of integration – in ‘Londongrad’ in particular – means that any measures now being taken by the Government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation.”

In other words, even after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed Crimea, the UK was both directly and indirectly fuelling Putin’s war effort. Short-term economic self-interest trumped human rights and geopolitical concerns – the consequences of which are now being felt by Ukrainians suffering and fleeing from genocide, and in higher energy prices on the home front.

However, it appears as though the UK Government is set to repeat its mistakes.

While the assets of foreign oligarchs – including and especially those from Russia – have been used to swell our all-consuming capital, these sources of morally dubious finance are now being channelled north.

Indeed, in a briefing paper obtained by the Byline Intelligence Team, relating to an October 2020 meeting between the Saudi Minister of Commerce, Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, and the UK’s Minister for Investment, Lord Gerry Grimstone, officials emphasised the commercial opportunities for Saudi firms looking to invest in the UK.

This was portrayed, by the UK officials, as a means of fulfilling the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

One of the top objectives of the meeting was to “promote the levelling-up agenda and the opportunities in the regions, including for the top Saudi companies their Government wants to see go global as part of their National Companies Promotion Programme”, the briefing paper states.

“There are significant opportunities, including as part of the levelling-up agenda, for star names like Saudi Aramco, SABIC, Saudi Telecoms, ACWA Power and others to come and invest in and grow their global shares/R&D potential in the UK,” it goes on to say – noting that a positive outcome would be to secure a “regional investment visit” from the Saudi administration “in support of the levelling up agenda”.

In mid-March, it was revealed that the Saudi firm Alfanar Group would be investing £1 billion into Teesside to produce sustainable aviation fuel. This followed the announcement in October that Saudi chemical company SABIC would be injecting £850 million into a Teeside chemical plant.

This policy was taken up by the Government’s long-awaited levelling up white paper – setting out the scope of its regional investment project – released in February, which emphasised the merits of foreign direct investment (FDI) into left-behind areas.

“The UK Government’s goal is to maximise the opportunities of its independent trade agenda for UK business,” it said. “Internationally mobile companies are among the most productive, innovative and high investing firms in the UK: UK businesses with inward FDI links were two-thirds more productive than businesses without an FDI link in 2018. However, over half of the UK’s inward investment stock is in London and the south-east.”

The logic behind this was epitomised by former Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, who told BBC Newsnight: “The key to unlocking levelling up is to bring foreign direct investment into the north of England, so taxpayers in the garden of England or anywhere else in this country do not have to pay for all of it.”

Department for International Trade (DIT) records show that the Government has been holding a series of meetings in recent months with sovereign wealth funds and foreign investment companies, about directing their resources to the UK.

DIT records for the final quarter of 2021, for example, show that ministers met with the Saudi National Bank, the Kuwait Investment Authority and the Qatar Investment Authority to discuss ‘investment opportunities’ in the UK. All of these institutions are majority owned by their respective governments.

In March 2021, the UK’s Office for Investment and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company – owned by the Gulf state – also signed the UAE-UK Sovereign Investment Partnership (SIP), with the UAE pledging to invest £10 billion in technology, infrastructure, healthcare, life sciences, and renewable energy in the UK.

Mubadala invested £1.1 billion between March and September 2021, while holding a series of meetings with UK ministers, seven in total, over a six month period from February 2021. 

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Economic Kompromat

FDI is clearly important to the economic growth of a country. It is a dangerous myth – one perpetuated by Donald Trump in the US and some Brexiters in the UK – that a nation is able to be prosperous and entirely self-sufficient.

However, Putin’s war in Ukraine has shown the need to more closely align our economic and geopolitical interests – not allowing our commercial centres to be bought and compromised by the actors of hostile states.

The UK’s recent economic reliance on autocracies has been justified, politically, under the notion that liberal capitalism will calm the worst excesses of these regimes. However, in practice, integration has not led to moderation.

While Foreign Secretary in 2017, Boris Johnson said “we want to encourage Saudi Arabia down the path of reform and modernisation”. Yet this did not stop the Kingdom from murdering Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul less than a year later – at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Just a few days before Johnson visited Riyadh in March this year, the Saudi regime executed more than 80 people, confirming the concerns of Amnesty International late last year, that accused the Saudi Government of launching a “relentless crackdown” on dissidents.

Saudi authorities “have brazenly intensified the persecution of human rights defenders and [have] stepped up executions over the past six months,” Amnesty said.

Qatar and Kuwait don’t have a clean slate, either, in terms of human rights abuses. More than 24,000 workers have suffered from human rights abuses on the projects devoted to the football world cup set to be held in Qatar later this year, while the Guardian reported last year that 6,500 migrant workers had died during the course of construction.

Human Rights Watch said in its 2022 report on Kuwait that authorities continue to restrict free speech and prosecute dissidents – including criminalising speech deemed insulting to the emir, its ruling monarch.

These are archetypal oligarchies, with state power and wealth amassed among a narrow band of influential families. The ruling Al Sabah family of Kuwait is estimated to be worth $360 billion, the House of Saud $1.4 trillion, and the House of Thani in Qatar some $335 billion.

Inviting investment from bodies attached to these families is therefore fundamentally different to encouraging the construction of a new factory by a Japanese car company or a German pharmaceutical giant. Unlike the German and Japanese firms, the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have political interests as well as economic ones.

The question is therefore whether we want our infrastructure and our economy to be reliant on countries that do not share our core values – states that are perpetuating abuses in the present day, regardless of the crimes that they may commit in the future.

This is an issue agitating the Conservative Party – but largely focused on the case of China.

There was a Conservative rebellion after the Government decided to allow a role for the Chinese tech company Huawei in the construction of the UK’s 5G network – a backlash that forced a Government U-turn. This is an ongoing concern, continuing this week with the takeover of Newport Wafer Fab – a semi-conductor supplier – by Nexperia, a company with links to the Chinese Communist Party.

“We are, seemingly, handing over critical security infrastructure to overseas companies with well-documented links to the Chinese state,” Conservative chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, has said in response – with his colleague Iain Duncan Smith calling the sale “ridiculous”.

However, perhaps due to financial self-interest – the Conservative Party has raised substantial amounts of cash from foreign oligarchs in recent years – it hasn’t lifted its gaze beyond the corrupting influence of investment linked to the Chinese state.

As a result, the Government is actively incubating new versions of Londongrad – creating silos of foreign states in the former industrial midlands and north. Following the lead of the capital, these areas are becoming safe havens for the wealth of oligarchs and an insurance policy for foreign governments seeking geopolitical leverage against Britain and the West as a whole.

Boris Johnson recently spoke of the “freedom” sought by Brexit voters – in comparison to the convictions of those repelling Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. It seems unlikely that these voters had foreign economic dependence in mind, when they plumped for Johnson’s project.

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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Police Decline Pursuing Harassment Charges Against Noel Clarke

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 28/03/2022 - 1:18am in

Reports are the London Metropolitan Police will not pursue charges against Noel Clarke regarding claims of sexual harassment & bullying.

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