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Liz Truss’ False Energy Bill Cap Claim has Misled Public, Poll Finds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/09/2022 - 11:21pm in

Six in 10 voters believe the Prime Minister's false claim that the Government is capping total household energy bills at £2,500 a year, reports Adam Bienkov

The public are being misled by Liz Truss’ false claim about capping total household energy bills from next week, a new Omnisis poll for Byline Times suggests.

The Prime Minister was rebuked by independent fact-checkers on Thursday after repeatedly making the false claim that households would pay no more than £2,500 a year for their energy.

“We have taken action by the Government stepping in, making sure that nobody is paying fuel bills of more than £2,500," Truss told BBC Radio Kent. She went on to repeat the claim on other local radio stations over the course of the morning.

However, under her Government’s plans, which will come into force next week, only the unit price of electricity will be capped – meaning many households will in fact pay well in excess of the £2,500 figure quoted by Truss.

Downing Street has yet to correct the Prime Minister's false claim. However, new polling by Omnisis for Byline Times suggests that a clear majority of people listening to the Prime Minister's claims will have believed her.

According to the poll, 58% of those surveyed said they understood Truss' statements to mean that their bills will be capped at £2,500; with just 42% saying that they instead believed there would be no such absolute cap.

The chief executive of Full Fact told Byline Times that the Prime Minister must stop misleading the public.

 "The Prime Minister must correct the record to avoid misleading people and ensure they are not hit by unaffordable and unexpected energy bills", Will Moy said.

"The evidence is that significant numbers of people are confused about what the guarantee means for them, and that could be a very costly confusion.

"More than that, the PM is asking for people's trust - and trust is earned."

A Budget for the Wealthy

Omnisis' findings also suggest that the fallout from last week's mini budget has badly damaged public trust in Liz Truss' handling of the economy.

According to the polling, almost seven in 10 voters do not have confidence in the Prime Minister to manage the economy during the cost of living crisis. Meanwhile 63% of those surveyed said they do not believe her claim that cutting taxes for corporations and wealthy individuals will grow the economy.

The Government's plans to scrap the top rate of tax, cut corporation tax and lift the cap on bankers' bonuses also appear to have damaged the Government's reputation.

Sixty-seven per cent of those asked said that the mini budget would "deepen inequality", while 81% said that the Government should instead be making the richest in society pay more.

Overall, 66% said that the budget would help people on higher incomes, compared to just 10% who said that it would help people on lower incomes. Just 4% said it would help people living in poverty.

The mini budget also appears to have damaged public belief in the Government's 'levelling-up' agenda. Seventy-two per cent of those asked by Omnisis said they don't believe the Prime Minister now cares about the issue.

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Brexit Regrets

Truss' Government sold its mini budget on a claim to be taking advantage of the supposed "opportunities" of Brexit. However, today's polling also found that most voters believe that the UK's exit from the EU has left the country worse-off.

Sixty-two percent of those surveyed said they believe the UK would be better-off if it was still a member of the EU.

Public confidence in the Government's handling of Brexit also remains low, with 73% saying they believe that the Government is handling it badly.

Public support for rejoining the EU is also high, according to the poll – with 61% of voters saying that they would vote for Britain to re-join the bloc if another referendum was held today.

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How Will Labour Navigate the Crisis-Hit Britain it Could Inherit?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/09/2022 - 11:10pm in

Opinion polls are looking good for Labour – but in victory Keir Starmer would inherit the greatest challenges ever faced by an incoming prime minister, writes Gareth Roberts

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If opinion polls are anything to go by, the Labour Party is set to win the next general election with a landslide never before seen in British political history.

Unfortunately for Keir Starmer's party, the situation it will inherit will be incomparable to what it faced when it was swept to victory in May 1997. 

Back then, although the song that accompanied its victory suggested that "things can only get better", the reality was that things were, on reflection, actually already pretty good.

The economy, after the debacle of Black Wednesday and the UK’s ejection from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, was stable; and the two years up to 1997 had seen a gradual reduction in unemployment together with two years of fairly solid growth. Europe was still an exciting adventure with the UK's signature on the Maastricht Treaty. The Northern Ireland peace process had already been kick-started by the work of John Major. The Civil Service was vibrant. And the incoming New Labour Government was united. 

The legacy that Starmer will in all likelihood inherit from Liz Truss, will be very different indeed.

For a start, it is almost impossible to predict the state of the economy – the UK could be in a deep recession after a catastrophic rise in interest rates have decimated people’s incomes or experience a period of dogged stagflation, as Truss' plan for growth is humiliatingly dismantled. Either way, Labour will inherit an economy which will be, at best, unstable with eye-wateringly high levels of government borrowing that will give a Labour-run Treasury little room for manoeuvre.  

Similarly, Labour will grasp the tiller of a nation with a standing in the world as low as it has ever been. Estranged from Europe, not a priority for the US, and pretty much ignored by everyone else with the trade deals that were promised by Brexit-supporting ministers smashed on the rocks of economic incompetence and the International Monetary Fund’s withering assertion that the UK is like ‘a developing nation’. 

But that won’t be all. The standing of politicians is at an all-time low – the Conservatives may have demonstrated an unprecedented level of incompetence and political arrogance, but the repeated allegation from the electorate is that ‘politicians are all the same.’ Labour will have to prove quickly that it is different and can be trusted, otherwise its period of office will be short-lived. 

So what could Labour do if the opinion polls are right and Keir Starmer and his colleagues are thrust into government? 

The impression so far is that Starmer’s greatest asset may well be the ability to restore a level of basic aptitude to govern that has been missing in the chaos of recent years. But that, of course, won’t be enough – Labour will have to pursue a programme for government.

Priority one should be to restore confidence and raise the morale of the public sector. Civil servants, legal aid lawyers, doctors, nurses or council workmen will likely all offer the same refrain that their job has been undermined and diminished financially – that must end. Labour must properly reward public sector workers and restore the confidence of the Civil Service by restoring them to their proper role as objective and professional providers of public policy. 

Abroad, a Labour government would need to start the process of restoring Britain’s international reputation – not by grandstanding but by showing some humility. This would include treating the EU as a friend rather than a manufactured bogeyman to be feared and opposed. The UK certainly has a lot to offer the world, but at the moment, its reputation has sunk so low, that it struggling to be taken seriously. 

Another priority should be to end the creeping ‘presidentialisation’ of British politics. Both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, in particular, have made the office of head of government all about them, eschewing any opposition and removing anyone remotely seen as a threat. The result has been incompetence at ministerial level and a shift in the way Parliament operates.

Keir Starmer must return government to being an institution in which competence and skill are rewarded above blind loyalty. One in which Cabinet ministers are given the opportunity to properly debate and oppose the leadership if they see fit – so that public policy is the best it can possibly be, rather than a short-term attempt to maximise positive headlines.

More tricky, will be a willingness to take on the hostile press. In recent years, the brutal partisanship of the print media, together with the ‘culture war’ agenda peddled by some of the fledgling news TV channels, has made it very difficult for Labour to gain any traction. Meanwhile, the structural flaws at the heart of many sections of Britain's billionaire-owned media remain. How will Labour navigate this?

Ultimately, the biggest challenge for Labour will be to govern for the whole of the United Kingdom – ensuring that the voices of nationalism in Scotland and Wales are listened to, without simply dismissing their concerns; and resisting the temptation to force a social agenda on parts of the country that might not always be as receptive to it as metropolitan areas.

His speech at the Labour Conference showed that Keir Starmer's party has the energy, the policies, the desire and the personnel to govern – the aim now will be take that into government during what might turn out to one of the most turbulent times in our history. 

Gareth Roberts is a barrister

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Tax Cuts For The Rich, Benefit Cuts For The Poor?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/09/2022 - 11:05pm in

Following news that benefits may rise with earnings, not inflation, Sian Norris and the Byline Intelligence Team asks: who will be hardest hit? And is this an inequality economy?

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The Government has mooted real-term cuts to welfare benefits to help meet the ongoing economic crisis that was exacerbated by the mini-budget announced a week ago. 

The Timesfront page on Friday 30 September led with the story that the Government was discussing raising benefits in-line with earnings, leading to a real-terms cut that would mean households already struggling to make ends meet risk falling deeper into poverty. A rise in-line with earnings would be 5%, while inflation hovers around 10%.

The Byline Intelligence Team has analysed who would be impacted by any decision to introduce a real-terms cut to the incomes of families currently claiming welfare. 

We found that low-income women and people in their 30s, living in traditionally “red wall” seats, would be hit hardest by a decision to increase Universal Credit against earnings, not inflation. 

Our analysis comes as the Government delivers big tax cuts to the rich, while potentially cutting benefits for the poorest families, as well as threatening more cuts to public services.

This represents a move by Liz Truss’ Government towards an inequality economy. 

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What Is The Plan?

Universal Credit is the welfare system pioneered by former Department for Work and Pensions Secretary Sir Iain Duncan-Smith. In 2018 it was criticised by the National Audit Office which concluded it could end up costing more than the benefit system it had replaced, could not prove it helped more claimants into work, and was unlikely to ever deliver value for money.

Benefits usually increase in April each year, based on the consumer price inflation of the previous September. This meant that in spring this year, benefits rose by 3.1% – in line with inflation six months earlier. However, by April 2022, inflation had already risen to 9%, before hitting 10.1% in July. It is currently at 9.9%. 

Johnson’s Government had promised to correct this imbalance before he was forced to resign over the summer. However, the new Government has made it clear that benefit freezes are on the table, although formal discussions are due to begin only once September’s inflation figures are received next month.

According to the Resolution Foundation, increasing benefits in-line with earnings instead of inflation would leave a low-income family with two children £1,000 per year off. This would follow the decision by former Chancellor Rishi Sunak in October last year to cut the Universal Credit £20 uplift, which cost 5.5 million households an average of £1,200. 

It also risks cancelling out the changes to the taper rate announced last year, which gave an additional £1,000 more per year to two million working families on Universal Credit.  

Iain Porter, Senior Policy Adviser at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It is shocking to hear the Government suggesting that they may not do what Rishi Sunak promised and uprate benefits by inflation next April as usual. This will mean yet another devastating blow to the finances of people on the lowest incomes and will cause fear for millions who have spent the past months struggling to feed their families, cook hot food and heat their homes”.

Where The Cuts May Fall

More than 5.8 million people in England, Wales and Scotland claim Universal Credit, and just under half (40%) have jobs. The amount a household receives varies depending on income and whether the claimants have children. 

Of that 5.8 million, 46.7% are single people with no children, and 13.5% are a couple with children. Single parents make up 36.3% of claimants. Half of single parent households are in relative poverty, and 90% of those families are headed by single mothers. 

London has the highest number of individual Universal Credit claimants, at 771,665, and in April 2022, 16.5% of people on the benefit lived in the capital. Just over 12% of people on Universal Credit live in the North West, or 618,572 individuals

Proportionally the region with the most people on benefits is the North East, at 8.76%. This is based on the number of claimants (236,709) as a percentage of the regional population as estimated by Varbes (2,702,539).

The North West had the second highest percentage of claimants per population, at 8.39%. London is at 8.08% and the West Midlands at 7.9%. In Wales, 7.2% of the population claims Universal Credit, while in Scotland it is 7.1%. 

On an individual city or county council level, Birmingham City Council has the highest number of claimants, at 160,164, while Rutland has the lowest: 1,793.

This regional breakdown demonstrates that many of those who will be hardest hit by a decision to raise benefits in-line with earnings and not inflation are in former Red Wall seats – traditionally held by Labour but which voted Conservative for the first time in 2019 on a promise of getting Brexit done and “levelling up”. 

Women will also be disproportionately impacted by a real-term cut to benefits levels – they make up 55% of Universal Credit claimants. The majority of claimants are in their 30s.

Should the Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng pursue a plan to increase benefits in-line with earnings in order to balance the books, at a time when offering tax cuts and unlimited bankers’ bonuses to the richest in society, he will be sending a clear message that austerity is back, and risks increasing regional, gender and generational inequality.

“Many people across the UK will agree it is morally indefensible that the Prime Minister would choose to give tax cuts to the richest funded on the backs of the poorest in our society,” said Porter. “Those who will lose out if the Government continues down this track include people with low earnings, families with children, carers and people who are sick or disabled”. 

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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‘Great British Democracy’: Who Voted for This?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/09/2022 - 9:17pm in

The UK's political system currently resembles an unelected autocracy rather than a truly representative democracy, writes former diplomat Alexandra Hall Hall

I feel a sense of utter helplessness and despair regarding the current political and economic situation in the UK. Amid all of the drama of recent weeks – the departure of Boris Johnson, the arrival of Prime Minister Liz Truss, the death of the Queen, the accession of King Charles III, and now the financial chaos unleashed by new Chancellor's mini budget, one thought keeps going through my head: we didn’t vote for this.

In the Foreign Office, we used to assess the quality of democracy in other countries not just by whether they held elections or not. Many countries possess this most basic component of democracy and yet are inherently undemocratic in nature, because the key levers of power are, in practice, controlled by one particular political faction or elite. 

Instead, we would look at the broader picture. To what extent are elections genuinely free and fair, and representative of the population as a whole? To what extent do checks and balances exist to guard against executive overreach – such as an effective second chamber, a free press, independent judiciary or active civil society? To what extent does the country respect broader democratic rights – such as freedom of information, expression and association, the right to form political parties or trade unions, or the equality and inclusivity of minority groups? 

This Government likes to claim that it is a champion of freedom and democracy – two words Liz Truss uses a lot in her speeches. And yet, it is increasingly behaving more like an unelected autocracy than a truly representative democracy.

In less than one week in early September, the UK acquired both a new head of state and a new head of government, without any input or say by the wider public. 

Upon the Queen’s death, King Charles automatically became the new monarch. The accession council to ratify that process was a mere formality. The decision to broadcast the ceremony on television for the first time did not make it any more democratic. 

The appointment of Liz Truss as the UK's new Prime Minister was equally undemocratic and, in some ways, even less transparent. 

There was little transparency in the process of ousting Boris Johnson, via privately submitted letters of no confidence to the secretive 1922 Committee, which supervises Conservative Party leadership contests. 

There was little transparency in the rounds of backroom bargaining and balloting of Conservative MPs to narrow the leadership contenders down to two finalists.

There was little transparency or democracy in the fact that only card-carrying members of the Conservative Party – a deeply unrepresentative group of the UK populace as a whole, representing less than 0.1% of the electorate and disproportionately white, male and older – were allowed to vote to decide who became the new leader and thus Prime Minister. 

Now Truss, the unelected head of the UK Government, has been able to institute the most radical set of economic reforms in recent history – despite having no explicit electoral mandate for this whatsoever.

Her reforms were not in the Conservative Party Manifesto, on which this Government was elected in 2019. Her Chancellor’s plans did not involve any vote of approval in the House of Commons – they were introduced without any debate or independent assessment of their impact, as the Office of Budget Responsibility was explicitly prevented from producing such an analysis.  

As the disastrous results roil the economy, the British public have no direct way to overturn them. 

The UK’s head of state, King Charles, cannot rein in the Government because, as an unelected monarch, his duty is to support the government of the day. 

The UK’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, cannot force a change of track by the Government because it is also an unelected body. It can ask questions and delay legislation but, ultimately, it has to defer to the elected House of Commons. Yet, the Commons has no say either, because the Government’s reforms have not required any legislation. The Opposition has not even been able to achieve a recall of Parliament to debate the current economic crisis. 

In theory, MPs could compel the Prime Minister to backtrack, by threatening a vote of no confidence. But, for this to succeed, a large number of Conservative MPs would need to vote against their own Government. Though many are reportedly unhappy about the Government’s trajectory, they are in practice unlikely to want to bring it down, lest it forces a general election in which, based on current polling, many would probably lose their seats. 

Nor can unhappy Tory MPs try to compel a change of Prime Minister through initiating another leadership contest because, under the current party rules, the new incumbent is safe from challenge for a year. If enough MPs become appalled by Truss’ leadership, they could insist upon a change in the rules – but they will know that it will stretch public tolerance to the limit to have yet another leadership competition within such a short space of time, let alone one which would again allow the wider electorate no say. 

A general election remains entirely in the gift of the governing party, which is hardly likely to go for one, given the risk of electoral wipeout. A public petition currently being circulated to demand an election does not have the ability to force one, even if millions of voters sign it. 

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Meanwhile, the Civil Service cannot act as a guardrail against executive overreach. Despite the fact that numerous Conservative critics have railed against it for allegedly 'thwarting' Government policy, in practice it is allowed only to offer its advice on policy and then implement it. Those who do dare to 'speak truth to power' risk losing their jobs – as exemplified by the sacking of Treasury Permanent Under Secretary, Tom Scholar, within days of the new Government taking office. 

Likewise, the judiciary cannot hold the Government to account for its mini budget as it did not break any laws. 

Though in theory we have a robust free press, in practice, much of the media is also failing in its duty to hold the Government to account. Some parts of the media are deeply compromised by being too closely associated with those in power. Newspaper owners and editors are rewarded with peerages for their 'loyalty' to the government of the day. Journalists are seduced with offers of special access, or revolve in and out of government themselves as special advisors. Critics of the government are shut out.  Other parts of the media, such as the BBC or Channel 4, are dependent on government for their funding or licenses to operate. 

Truss’ actions take the UK further down the same undemocratic path as her predecessor, Boris Johnson, who wrenched the UK out of the EU on the very hardest of terms, without any explicit mandate to do so, and against the will of a majority of voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland.  

His claim that he was enacting “the will of the people” contained deeply sinister authoritarian overtones, not least when you consider that under the UK's first past the post voting system, his party won with less than 50% of the overall votes cast.  

Whether you agreed with them or not, the lockdowns Johnson's Government imposed during the pandemic also represented an extraordinary intrusion of executive power over individual liberty. 

And, as has been well-documented, Johnson used his time in office to erode the few checks and balances on the executive which do exist within our system. His Government made unprecedentedly extensive use of so-called 'Henry VIII powers' – delegated legislation that allows ministers to amend or repeal primary legislation without having to create a new Act of Parliament that MPs must debate and vote on. Legislation was passed to limit rights of public protest; to circumscribe the powers of judicial review; and to increase government control over the Electoral Commission.

Johnson also stretched the boundaries of our unwritten constitution. He unlawfully prorogued Parliament to try to evade scrutiny of his Brexit strategy. He tried to change the rules governing the behaviour of MPs in Parliament to protect political allies such as Owen Paterson. He nominated political cronies and party donors to the House of Lords. 

On top of unleashing economic turmoil, Truss has reaffirmed her determination to pass legislation which would unilaterally breach the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, unless the EU agrees to renegotiate it on her terms. This is not just unlawful, but also fundamentally undemocratic, given that a majority of voters in Northern Ireland would prefer to keep the Protocol in place.  

Truss has declared that she has no need for an independent ethics advisor. She has also suggested that she would like to protect Boris Johnson from scrutiny by the parliamentary privileges committee over his actions during 'Partygate'. 

She has arrogantly dismissed critics of her economic strategy as out-of-touch or ill-informed. She is claiming, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the UK’s situation is no worse than that of other developed countries, and that the problems stem mainly from the war in Ukraine and the Coronavirus pandemic – rather than her own Government’s reckless actions. 

The famous joke in Soviet times was that there was 'no truth in Pravda, and no news in Izvestia'. I fear Britain is turning into a democracy where there is no longer much democracy. 

Alexandra Hall Hall is a former British diplomat with more than 30 years experience, with postings in Bangkok, Washington, Delhi, Bogota and Tbilisi. She resigned from the Foreign Office in December 2019 because she felt unable to represent the Government’s position on Brexit with integrity

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Conservative MPs Fear Liz Truss is Pushing the UK Economy to Disaster

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/09/2022 - 7:49pm in

The Prime Minister's Brexit-driven ideology is pushing the UK economy off a cliff and her own MPs fear they may not be able to stop her, reports Adam Bienkov

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The pound is plunging, Government borrowing costs are going through the roof and the Bank of England has spent tens of billions in order to stop a run on UK pension funds. Meanwhile, mortgage companies are pulling their products as traders warn darkly that the UK is on the edge of a Lehman Brothers-style collapse.

And yet the word in Downing Street is that absolutely everything is going to plan.

Government sources told reporters on Wednesday that there would be “no change” to its policy and instead suggested that the current crisis was a “blip” caused by international markets failing to understand the sophisticated nature of Truss’ economic plan. 

Rather than row back from proposals to hand massive tax cuts to millionaires, ministers have instead been asked to find “efficiency savings” from public services instead. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Chris Philp, suggested on Wednesday evening that benefit claimants could also be asked to accept real terms cuts to the support they receive. 

Speaking to the BBC on Thursday morning, Liz Truss insisted that she will push ahead, as it is “the right plan that we have set out” and “we have to do it”.

For many Conservative MPs this is not just fantasy economics, but fantasy politics.

With polls suggesting that the party’s economic credibility is now in tatters, they fear that their new leader is pushing them to an “extinction level” event. One poll earlier this week suggested that the Conservatives now face a 1997-level electoral wipeout. 

One distraught Tory MP and former Cabinet Minister told Byline Times on Wednesday that Truss’ plan, and in particular her decision to scrap the top rate of tax, is causing serious damage to the party’s hard-fought reputation on the economy. “The 45p cut is really toxic," they said.

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What has particularly infuriated them is the fact that Truss' heavy focus on tax cuts for high earners has almost entirely distracted the public from the significant support the Treasury is also providing to households on energy bills.

“Colleagues are angry that the energy package has been completely overshadowed”, one Conservative MP said. “It’s huge expenditure to genuinely fix an extraordinary challenge for households and businesses and it has sunk without trace.”

Truss’ determination to push ahead with her plans, despite the many red lights flashing on the UK economic dashboard, has blindsided some of her MPs.

“There was no absolutely no pitch-rolling [for this plan],” one told Byline Times.

However, in reality, the Prime Minister's recent actions are entirely in line with the arguments she made during this summer’s leadership contest. 

For two months, Truss dismissed warnings from her rival Rishi Sunak that her plans would risk the stability of the UK economy, while insisting that the time for “hand-outs” for low earners was now over.

“To look at everything through the lens of redistribution, I believe is wrong," Truss told the BBC shortly after becoming Prime Minister, before adding that it was only “fair” that the majority of her tax cuts should go to those at the top of the income scale.

On her broadcast round this morning, Truss continued to take these lines, despite a brutal series of questions from local radio stations and their listeners.

Speaking in characteristically plodding and emotionless terms, Truss showed no sign of contrition or any indication that she plans to change course in any way. Under her current plans, the Treasury will not even re-examine its economic agenda for another eight weeks – and there was little sign this morning that this is about to change.

Brexit Ideologues Pushing Economy Over a Cliff

Conservative MPs are now hoping desperately that this is all merely bravado. They expect that, when faced with a growing crisis, the Prime Minister will inevitably be forced into a series of U-turns in order to stabilise the economy.

Maybe she will, but there is also a chance that Truss actually believes in the hardline economic ‘shock doctrine’ she is now applying.

There is a chance that, when her aides and outriders brief that the International Monetary Fund (IMF), currency traders, and the Civil Service, are all “woke” agents trying to block her glorious economic revolution, or that the whole crisis has somehow been manufactured by the Leader of the Opposition, that she actually believes it.

It is possible that the Prime Minister has become completely convinced by her own rhetoric and that, when the decision comes on whether to push the UK economy over the cliff or admit that she was wrong, she will enthusiastically do the former.

This is not as unlikely as it may seem.

Ever since the EU Referendum, the Conservative Party has committed itself to an economic and political project which even its own Government predicted would lead to the UK becoming significantly poorer. It has continued with this plan despite clear and growing evidence that it has made life and work significantly harder for businesses and individuals across the country.

In some ways, Truss' new hardline economic agenda is merely the logical end point of that process. If you believe, as Truss and her allies quite obviously do, that the UK can only prosper if it becomes a small state, low-tax, low-regulation economy, outside of the European Union, then you will be willing to take any means necessary to achieve that aim, even if it means crashing the economy.

Pushing ahead will be difficult, however. Conservative MPs are already warning that they will seek to intervene if she continues with all of the measures in last week's mini budget. One senior figure in the party predicted that there would be sizeable rebellions on their benches in the House of Commons when the Prime Minister puts her plans to a vote. The Bank of England and other institutions are also unlikely to stand by if the Government remains on its current course.

However, with Truss clinging on to the large majority she has inherited from her predecessor Boris Johnson, and with her apparent determination to ignore opposition to her plans, none of this may be enough.

Faced with similar pushback, Johnson was often criticised for his tendency to make regular U-turns. Yet as embarrassing as those U-turns were, they were also necessary to prevent his own Government, and the country, from heading towards outright disaster.

The terrifying prospect posed by the Truss premiership is that she lacks this same safety valve and that, when she insists that we all have no choice but to keep going with her reckless and dangerous economic plans, that she really does mean it.

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‘Operation Red Meat’ Continues Despite Asylum Crackdown Failures

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/09/2022 - 6:56pm in

Sascha Lavin reports on how the Home Office is pursuing flawed migration policies to retain a base of reactionary support – no matter how ill-conceived

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At the end of August, with the leadership election to replace Boris Johnson in full swing, the then Home Secretary Priti Patel announced plans to ‘fast track’ the removal of Albanian asylum seekers crossing the English Channel.

Her policy would curb the “shameful and absurd” number of Albanian asylum claims, she argued – forgetting that her department was accepting more than half of asylum claims made by Albanians every year, believing them to be genuine and justified.

Playing into the sensationalised claims promoted by the right-wing press, including that 40% of people crossing the Channel to seek asylum in the UK are from Albania – a claim that Byline Times has debunked – Patel said that Albanian asylum seekers would be subject to immediate removal.

This week, the Government was forced to U-turn on Patel’s policy, following a legal letter from charity Care4Calais.

“The Government has performed a major climbdown,” its founder Claire Moseley said. “In doing so, they are accepting that people from Albania have the right to make an asylum claim and have it fairly heard. This is a victory for human decency.”

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This is not the first time in the past 12 months – let alone the past 12 years of Conservative rule – when the Home Office has been forced to concede that it does not have a right to carry out certain immigration policies.

In March, the Home Office’s blanket policy of seizing mobile phones from all migrant people entering the UK by small boats was ruled unlawful by a High Court judge – following a story by Byline Times revealing this practice. Almost 2,000 asylum seekers were unable to contact their family and retrieve critical documentation for their asylum claim because their phones were confiscated by the Home Office for months.

The department has also handed out a record number of compensation payments to people who were wrongfully detained in immigration detention centres in the financial year 2021/22. It paid £12.7 million worth of compensation – a £3.3 million jump from the previous year – to people who were detained for too long or who were too vulnerable or ill to be detained, including victims of torture.

In 2016, it was first revealed that the Home Office may have imposed curfews on asylum seekers unlawfully. Some of these curfews, monitored by an electronic tag, had been in place for years.

It is unclear whether the Government is intentionally imposing harsh policies on asylum seekers or whether it has no intention of actually delivering on many of its schemes – instead merely seeking to appeal to its right-wing base.

Indeed, the Government’s flagship ‘Operation Red Meat’ immigration policy – announced in a bid to save ‘big dog’ Boris Johnson – has failed to relocate a single asylum seeker to Rwanda. The controversial policy is currently on hold until its legality is determined by the courts.

Moreover, a recent report by a Government watchdog has raised further concerns about the legality of the policy, detailing how asylum seekers due to be deported to Rwanda were not given adequate legal access or enough information about the plans while detained at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre.

But far from deterring the Home Office’s ramped-up 'hostile environment' policies, the legal challenges appear to be playing into the Conservative Party’s ‘culture war’.

Patel’s criticism of “do-gooder... lefty lawyers” – and her replacement Suella Braverman’s description of judges as “wet liberals” – are part of a years-long effort to retain socially conservative voters won over to the Tories during the Brexit campaign.

Despite Johnson’s resignation and Liz Truss now installed in Number 10, the anti-immigration policies continue. During her leadership bid, Truss said she would “pursue more third-country processing partnership schemes” and vowed to consider more “turnaround tactics” for migrant people crossing the Channel.

In the midst of an economic and political crisis stoked by the Government itself, ‘Operation Red Meat’ carries on.

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‘The Iceberg Heading Straight Towards the Government is Housing Market Crash’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/09/2022 - 10:38pm in

Experts explain how ‘the wheels could come off’ the British economy as a result of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng's reckless approach, reports Sam Bright

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UK markets have lost $500 billion in combined value since Liz Truss became Prime Minister three weeks ago, Bloomberg reported yesterday.

Thanks to the collapse of the pound, which has gone from $1.17 to $1.07 in the space of the last month, this financial hit is roughly equivalent to £350 million lost every 21 minutes from UK markets.

In other words, if we suspend reality and believe the Vote Leave claim that we ‘sent’ £350 million a week to the EU, the recent collapse in UK markets is approximate to 143 of these weekly payments. Nearly three years of alleged membership fees, burned in less than a month.

The Bank of England has now warned that there is potentially a “material risk to UK financial stability” and has adopted measures it hopes will help stabilise the economy.

This comes after the financial markets bet against the UK economy, following Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini budget last week. Kwarteng announced a range of un-costed (i.e. he didn’t explain exactly how he would pay for them) policies to benefit the rich – including lowering the top rate of tax, removing the cap on bankers’ bonuses, cancelling corporation tax and National Insurance rises, and cutting stamp duty.

As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said, “given elevated inflation pressures in many countries, including the UK, we do not recommend large and untargeted fiscal packages at this juncture, as it is important that fiscal policy does not work at cross purposes to monetary policy”.

Ergo, in order to curb inflation – expected to peak at 11% in October – the Bank of England will be forced to elevate interest rates. The more that Government measures push up inflation, by increasing the heat in the economy (through the “untargeted fiscal packages” described by the IMF), the more that interest rates will rise.

This, it seems, could be the apex of a new, profound economic crisis in the UK.

“The iceberg that is heading straight towards [the Government] is the housing market,” Dr Jo Michell, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of the West of England, told the Byline Times Podcast.

The Government’s policies “will induce higher interest rates,” he says. “The Bank of England will intervene, interest rates will be high... that’s going to feed through into mortgage rates, and I do struggle to see how the housing market doesn’t [crash].”

The importance of property to the UK economy has intensified since the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher’s economic reforms. “Let me give you my vision: a man’s right to work as he will, to spend what he earns, to own property, to have the state as servant and not as master – these are the British inheritance,” she said at her first party conference speech in 1975.

The steady, consistent growth of the private property market – underpinned by the conscious erosion of social housing stock – has formed the basis of individual security and investment in Britain ever since.

The average selling price of a home in the UK trebled during the Thatcher era from £19,925 in 1979 to £59,785 in 1990. This figure hit £251,634 in 2010, and now stands at £286,000. In London, that figure is £543,517.

“So much of the economy, for better or for worse – mainly for worse – is driven by housing price valuations,” says Dr Mitchell, “and this is where I think the wheels can really come off [the Government’s] so-called plan.”

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This is reiterated by Professor Mark Stephens, Chair of Land, Property and Urban Studies at Glasgow University, who says that, “while the budget has triggered the crisis, it is the price for a decade of making every effort to support entry into home ownership while keeping house prices high”.

Indeed, we have already seen some evidence of this in just the last week. A number of lenders, including Halifax – Britain’s largest mortgage lender – have withdrawn some of their products until they figure out what interest rate to charge.

By 2023, monthly mortgage repayments as a percentage of household nominal disposable income is expected to hit 30% – the figure last seen immediately before the 2008 financial crash, which was spurred by unsustainable levels of property debt.

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, says that if interest rates rise as predicted, the average household refinancing a two-year fixed rate mortgage in the first half of next year would see monthly payments jump to £1,490 from £863. “Many simply won’t be able to afford this,” he said.

This is particularly a problem in the context of the UK’s current household debt burden. Although household debt peaked in the second quarter of 2008 at 151.5% of household disposable income, it has not fallen markedly since the crash, still standing at 131.3% during the first three months of 2022.

Moreover, in the midst of an escalating cost of living crisis, arrears on personal debt have almost doubled from £1.8 billion in October last year to £3.8 billion this year. The average credit card debt per household in June 2022 was £2,229.

From a political standpoint, it is notable – and to some extent shocking – that the Conservative Party is pursuing these policies; battling against hedge funds and risking a housing market crash.

The party received £11 million from hedge funds and finance tycoons between December 2019 and September 2021, while 20% of Conservative donations come from property tycoons – equivalent to £60 million over a 10-year period. Truss herself received tens of thousands of pounds in donations from property developers during her Conservative leadership bid.

Boris Johnson’s infamous mantra – “f*ck business” – seems still to be a guiding ethos in the Truss era.

Additional reporting by Sascha Lavin and Iain Overton

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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The Creation of the Great British Plutocracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/09/2022 - 6:45pm in

Money rules in modern Britain, writes Rachel Morris

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One of the most disconcerting aspects of existence today, running as the subtext below a once-in-a-century pandemic, a re-emerging nuclear weapons threat, and an existential economic crisis, is that truth is subjective. Words don’t seem to mean what they used to.

At such a time, language should matter more than ever to those who don’t wish to play this dangerous game. That includes how we talk about our Government, old and ‘new’. Mea culpa: I’ve flung about terms like ‘kleptofascist’, without knowing if they’re even real words, let alone accurate descriptors.

In the interests of personal responsibility and a commitment to the truth as it used to be known, I’ve explored terms of use and held them up against our country’s leadership team to see how well, or ill-fitting, they are. It’s necessary to examine the source of power defined by each label, then how and by whom power is wielded, for what purpose. Bear in mind that not all of these terms are mutually exclusive.

Let's take the four primary forms of governance: anarchy, autocracy, democracy and oligarchy.

We can rule out the first, as the UK isn’t a non-hierarchical country without laws. Autocracy is when unlimited political and social power rests with one individual or polity, who or which is above the law and any means of being held to account besides violent outbreaks.

Some may say this echoes the current UK situation given what’s happened to accountability and transparency in recent times, but we’re really talking about a Sultan of Brunei-type situation there. (The commonly-used word ‘fascism’ also doesn’t apply, as it’s a belief system, whereas fascism-like actions are increasingly taken here simply to enable other things).

So, what and where are we nowadays: a democracy, an oligarchy, or somewhere in between?

‘Democracy’ means ‘rule of/by the people’, and is of course the representative system we have, in the strict sense. But the Conservatives won an 80-seat majority in 2019 via only 43.6% of the popular vote. 32 million people voted, on a turnout of 67.3% of the registered population, 13.9 million for the Conservatives (29.2% of the registered population).

That party has just, for the second time in four years, chosen its leader – and thus the Prime Minister – via an opaque system allowing unknown foreign elements a vote, or perhaps multiple votes.

For these and a myriad of other reasons, while we nominally have a democratic system, it cannot be said to be representative by any means. This tips us along the scale towards oligarchy. How far along?

A subspecies of representative democracy called ‘electocracy’ gives a government almost total power; citizens vote for it but cannot participate directly in its decisions; a sub-sub-species, totalitarian democracy, is a more extreme version.

Then there’s electoral autocracy, which looks like democracy at a glance, but institutions and norms are a cosplay façade, authoritarian methods prevail, and electoral processes are short on fairness and freedom. This brings Russia to mind, where the President and Prime Minister have simply changed places every few years, though the electoral aspect feels curiously familiar.

The UK doesn’t fit squarely into any of those sub-categories, but has inched towards some characteristics since 2019.

‘Oligarchy’ has become associated mainly with Russia and its cabal of wildly wealthy men and their families, enriched by theft from the country’s people and resources thanks to their always-precarious membership in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. But the word can apply anywhere.

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The Exchange Rate

Meaning ‘rule of/by the few’, oligarchy lends power to a small number of people who may or may not be linked by birth status, corporate ties, military or religious control and/or wealth. This category can be sub-divided, and that’s where things become more applicable to the UK. But first, let’s eliminate what we’re self-evidently not.

We have, but are not, an aristocracy. While social class still has huge influence over people’s life experiences from cradle to grave, it appears that money is now more of a determinant in the allocation of power, American-style, than simply social inheritance.

Which is where we stumble upon plutocracy: a system in which the leadership is dependent on, in debt to, and/or under the influence of the wealthy and their goals and interests, whether individuals or organisations. Whatever the type of government under discussion, plutocracy can change its nature and how it’s described. It’s simply a question of degree.

Of course, all major ‘democracies’ have always had a smear of plutocracy in their make-up. Before Liz Truss took over from Boris Johnson as leader, there were long-standing concerns about the degree of influence over that Conservative Party by the wealthy, including their involvement in bringing about Brexit.

Some such wealthy people are Putin-connected Russians, some of whom have been ennobled or are rumoured to be soon. Others have been provided with means of privileged access to Government decision-making. The Conservative Party has accepted some £5 million in donations from Russian sources since 2012.

By way of non-Russian examples, there have been many un-minuted meetings between senior ministers and malign global influencer Rupert Murdoch or his representatives. My Freedom of Information request to the Cabinet Office for details about this earlier this year went unanswered.

Six Conservative donors have been given high-level cultural positions of influence, such as trusteeship of the National Gallery. Earlier this year, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) allowed the auction of a private tour as a prize at a Conservative function, before hosting the Conservative Summer Ball. The museum’s chair is a party donor.

One V&A trustee, Ben Elliot, was until very recently the Conservative Party chairman. Elliot used his concierge firm Quintessentially to provide services to Russian oligarchs, and is alleged to have earned an income by setting up meetings between his uncle and wealthy, fee-paying businessmen. His uncle King Charles III, that is – Elliot is the nephew of Camilla, the Queen Consort.

All of that self-evidently breaches the code of conduct for public body trustees. However, as the certainty with which a plutocratic democracy can be described as such increases, compliance with rules and norms relating to public accountability, ethics, conflicts of interest, corruption, and transparency correspondingly lessens. How else are they to get away with it?

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s nakedly rich-favouring mini-budget also brazenly ripped the mask off any pretence that we’re a representative democracy, lurching us into the realms of corporatocracy and kleptocracy.

If you’re still in any doubt, I ask you to consider three things. The relationship between Kwarteng and his former boss Crispin Odey, and Odey’s financial relationship with the health or otherwise of our currency. And watch the City of London documentary The Spider’s Web on Netflix or YouTube, if you haven’t already. Welcome to the Hunger Games. This is feral capitalism, facilitated by those in charge.

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How Austerity has Endangered Britain’s Ability to Safeguard its Natural Environment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/09/2022 - 6:00pm in

Debilitating cuts have reduced regulators' role in safeguarding the natural environment and stymied the Government’s approach to net zero, reports Thomas Perrett

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Liz Truss has so far shown little sign of willingness to address the array of environmental issues which face her Government. Even as consumers are plagued by skyrocketing energy bills driven primarily by increasing gas prices, and the danger of energy blackouts this winter looms, it remains committed to expanding heavily polluting sources of energy. The new Energy Secretary has advocated for “squeezing every last cubic inch of gas from the North Sea” and has recently reversed the 2019 moratorium on fracking.

Truss’ antipathy towards the long-term spending measures required to develop renewable energy sources is indicative of her approach to economic policy.

She is willing to increase Government borrowing to fund tax cuts in the hope that this will accelerate growth, but unwilling to issue a windfall tax on energy firms due to make £170 billion in excess profits over the next two years, having argued that this would impede new investment in the economy.

Indeed, during her stint as Environment Secretary, Truss presided over a lengthy period of budget cuts which reduced funding for the Environment Agency by £235 million. Between 2014 and 2016, she oversaw a £24 cut from government grants intended for environmental protection and the prevention of the discharge of sewage into the water supply.

Her approach has been criticised by Greenpeace, which argued that she had “sewage on her hands” following Labour’s analysis of official figures showing that raw sewage discharge had nearly doubled between 2016 and 2021. Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, observed that “the growing tsunami of sewage unleashed onto Britain’s waterways is a shocking demonstration of how undermining our regulators leads to a disregard for nature and those meant to protect it”. 

The sewage scandal was the consequence of a prolonged campaign of austerity which has crippled key environmental agencies, leaving them toothless in the face of crumbling infrastructure and biodiversity loss which will impede government attempts to address the climate crisis.

According to analysis from the campaigning coalition Unchecked, prosecutions of businesses by the Environmental Agency fell by 80% between 2009/10 and 2016/17, in addition to a 33% decline in prosecutions for waste crime and a 29% fall in the number of incidents of pollution logged by the agency.

Both the Environmental Agency and conservation regulatory body Natural England have been hit by significant funding cuts leading to staff shortages. Funding for environmental regulators fell by an average of 50%, leading the number of full-time staff to decline by 30% over the same period.

Concerns soon mounted that Natural England – which lost 66% of its funding between 2010 and 2017 – was particularly affected by austerity and would be compelled to reshape its priorities, resulting in it being less able to enforce measures to protect and restore the country’s biodiversity.

Back in 2010, 25 leading conservation groups made a joint statement arguing that further cuts would “translate into huge long-term costs for our economy and our national wellbeing" and that "England's uplands have become degraded; their wildlife is in decline, and their ability to lock away carbon and provide clean drinking water for millions sadly reduced”.

A 2020 report by trade union Prospect found that Natural England’s programme expenditure had dropped by £30 million since 2006, arguing that the financial hardship it had faced would exacerbate biodiversity loss and make it more difficult for the Government to implement measures addressing the climate crisis.

Mike Clancy, Prospect's general secretary said “there is a yawning gap between the Government’s rhetoric on climate change, the environment and biodiversity and the reality of years of under-funding our environmental agencies”.

“The disproportionate cuts, out-dated and unfit pay framework, and significant pay inequality all need to be addressed," he added. "The UK has a world-class natural environment which is treasured by the public, but this natural heritage will suffer if the expert custodians of our natural heritage continue to be treated as second class public servants."

Indeed, Natural England has since attracted criticism for failing to implement robust measures to protect biodiversity and altering its strategies to effectively penalise rewilding. Last year, it released its ‘biodiversity metric’ which outlined how roads, houses and other infrastructure projects could avoid despoiling the natural environment. The metric erroneously categorised land set aside for rewilding as “degraded”, further endangering species dependent on this land to survive.

The biodiversity net gain metric, which entomologist Steven Falk said was potentially “the single most dangerous thing to be done by a statutory agency I’ve seen in all my 40 years working in nature conservation”, was found to have reduced available green spaces by 34%. The report, which assessed 6% of houses built between January 2020 and February 2021 in local authorities which adopted Natural England’s scheme, concluded that “little attention has been paid to ensuring the delivery of habitats within developer-owned land”.

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The report cast doubt on the effectiveness of government-enforced conservation initiatives, arguing that “even ambitious policies are subject to huge uncertainties that risk undermining their biodiversity benefits” and that “the safest mechanism for reducing the biodiversity impact of infrastructure is to avoid impacts to biodiversity initially. In practice, this means redirecting development to previously degraded sites wherever possible”.

Owing in part to the consistent under-funding of regulatory agencies, Britain has experienced extensive biodiversity loss over recent decades.

Only 50.3% of Britain’s biodiversity remains, in comparison to an average of 75% for nations in the G7. Britain is also in the bottom 10% of nations globally for nature - depletion, having seen a 13% decline in the abundance of wildlife since 1970.

Moreover, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, one in four species are at risk of extinction in Britain following a 70% decline in the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians since 1970. Of the 7,615 species in England assessed, 13% are classified as near-extinct.

Natural England and the Environment Agency have faced debilitating austerity measures which have impeded their ability to safeguard the natural environment and stymied the Government’s approach to net zero. With the country facing alarming rates of species extinction and biodiversity decline, how will Liz Truss be able to justify making this systematic under-funding any worse?

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Climate Activists Evicted from Labour Conference Fringe Event Sponsored by Power Station Firm 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/09/2022 - 2:52am in

The campaigners argued that the party should not be aligning itself to the company, which emitted million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere last year

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Climate change activists were evicted from a Labour Party Conference fringe event today sponsored by Drax – the company behind a biomass-fuelled power station still emitting millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Labour has pledged to lower energy bills by turning the UK into a green powerhouse and to put climate change at the heart of its international relations.

The campaigners were made to leave the meeting in Liverpool – entitled 'Reaching Net Zero: How can the UK Boost Energy Security and Invest in Green Jobs?’ – at which speakers included Clare Harbord, Drax’s director of corporate affairs and executive committee member; and Dr Alan Whitehead, Labour's Shadow Minister for Green New Deal and Energy.

The activists called for Labour to cut ties with Drax and to stop providing a platform for what they claim is 'corporate greenwashing'.  

Drax power station, near Selby in north Yorkshire, made the conversion from coal to wood biofuel in the mid-to-late 2000s but, according to its latest annual report, it still emitted 13.42 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere last year making it the largest single source of CO2 emissions in the UK. 

Earlier this month, the EU voted to end public subsidies for burning trees for energy which it now recognises has a negative impact on the environment. However, wood biofuel is still classified as a “renewable energy” in the UK, with Drax currently receiving more than £2.5 million a day in Government money funded via a green surcharge levied on energy bills. 

BECCS [Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture, Use and Storage] is a technology currently being developed by Drax which, if proven to work, will be used to capture carbon before it enters the atmosphere and store it under the North Sea. 

Merry Dickinson, who was led away by security, justified her disruption of the meeting to expose "greenwashing". She told Byline Times that the actions of Drax are "pushing us towards climate breakdown and we didn’t feel like we could let this slide”. 

Molly Jones, who was also removed from the meeting, said: “When Labour props up these corporate interests and greed that are harmful to workers and communities it makes me question my vote. Labour needs to stop supporting Drax and support genuine renewables instead.”

Labour Party member Ellen Robottom said she was "horrified" that it is accepting sponsorship from Drax. She accused the biomass-power industry of being responsible for “widespread destruction of irreplaceable forest ecosystems and catastrophic reduction of carbon sequestration capacity” and said that Labour should be exposing this "not colluding with it".

Sally Clark, a spokesperson from Biofuelwatch, has criticised Labour for accepting sponsorship from a company which she accused of “devastating forests, wildlife and communities around the world, whilst also making the climate crisis worse”. 

“If Labour is serious about its pledge to cut emissions and support genuinely renewable wind and solar power, the Party urgently needs to end its links to Drax," she added.

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A Drax spokesperson told Byline Times that “a very small number of people attending the event tried to disrupt the discussion and were unwilling to listen to the views of the panellists who were in agreement that in order to reach net zero the world needs to use a range of energy solutions including wind, solar, biomass and BECCS". 

“Climate change is the biggest challenge this generation faces," they added. "Over the last decade, Drax has reduced its carbon emissions from fossil fuels by almost 100% using sustainable biomass.”

As the use of sustainable biomass is considered to be CO2-neutral at the point of combustion in the UK, the harmful carbon emissions from burning wood biofuel are counted as zero in official reporting. However, a report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council last year stated that woody biomass for power is not effective in mitigating climate change and may even increase the risk of dangerous climate change.

Dr Alan Whitehead MP and Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Secretary Ed Miliband did not respond to a request for comment.

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