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Former MP loses appeal against sexual assault conviction

Sky News politics

The former MP Imran Ahmad Khan has lost an appeal against his conviction for sexual assault.Khan, who was Conservative MP for Wakefield from 2019 until his resignation in April, was jailed for 18 months in May after he was found guilty of assaulting a 15-year-old boy at a house in 2008.
He had denied the allegation.Starmer outlines ‘blueprint’ for Labour government – politics latestThe 49-year-old challenged his conviction at the Court of Appeal last month.
The appeal was rejected on Monday, with judge Michael Sweeney saying he had “no doubt” that Khan’s trial was fair and his conviction was safe.Khan’s lawyers had argued that the guilty verdict was “unsafe” because the case against him was “weak” and was bolstered by “bad character evidence” from a man who alleged he had been sexually assaulted as an adult by Khan in Pakistan in 2010.They also argued his jail term was too long for the offence and should have been suspended.Both appeals were dismissed by three senior judges.

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During the original trial, the jury heard Khan forced the teenager to drink gin and tonic at a party before he dragged him upstairs, pushed him on to a bed and asked him to watch pornography before the attack.The victim, now 29, told Southwark Crown Court that Khan touched his feet and legs and the former MP came within “a hair’s breadth” of his privates as he tried to sleep in a top bunk bed.He ran to his parents and a police report was made at the time, but no further action was taken because he did not want to make a formal complaint.He told the court “it all came flooding back” when Khan stood as a Conservative in the December 2019 general election.He said he was not “taken very seriously” when he made the allegation to the Conservative Party press office days before Khan was elected as MP for Wakefield.He made a complaint to the police days after Khan helped the party hold on to power by taking the seat from Labour with a majority of more than 3,000.Passing sentence in May, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said: “The only regret you feel is towards yourself for having found yourself in the predicament you face as a result of your actions some 14 years ago.”Khan, the judge said, had displayed a “significant degree of brutality” in the lead-up to the assault, as he dragged his victim upstairs and threw him on to a bed at a house in Staffordshire in January 2008.

Starmer pledges to abolish House of Lords in first term as PM

Sky News politics

Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to abolish the House of Lords in his first term if he is elected prime minister.Speaking to Sky News, the Labour leader confirmed his party “do want to abolish the House of Lords”, adding that he does not think anybody could “defend” the institution.
Sir Keir told Kay Burley: “It’s one of the recommendations, as you know, in today’s report.”What we’re going to do after today is now consult on those recommendations, test them, and in particular, look at how can they be implemented.”Sir Keir unveils Brown’s ‘blueprint’ for Labour government – politics latest
Asked if it is his hope the House of Lords will be abolished within his first term as prime minister, Sir Keir replied: “Yes, I do.”Because what I asked when I asked Gordon Brown to set up the commission to do this, I said what I want is recommendations that are capable of being implemented in the first term.”

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He added: “We’re going to get one shot at fixing our economy and fixing our politics and I want to make sure we get it exactly right.”But Tory peer Lord Norton has urged caution over proposed reform to parliament’s second chamber after suggestions it should be replaced with elected representatives.

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“One has to be wary of some Big Bang reform, grand reform, which often takes the form of displacement activity – the nation’s got problems, people must come up with constitutional reform because it’s a fairly simple, straightforward proposal, rather than actually getting down to the real issues,” he told Times Radio.Asked if he will continue to nominate peers to the House of Lords, as Labour unveiled plans to abolish the upper chamber, Sir Keir later told the PA news agency: “Everyone wants a functioning House of Lords until it is abolished and replaced by a second chamber.”The proposal forms part of Labour’s blueprint for a “New Britain”, outlined in the report of its commission on the UK’s future – headed by former PM Gordon Brown.Unveiling the report at a joint press conference with Sir Keir in Leeds, Mr Brown said the work is proposing “the biggest transfer of power out of Westminster and Whitehall” that “our country has seen”.Sir Keir told the audience: “You are being held back. Held back by a system that hoards power in Westminster.”A system which smugly thinks it knows what skills, transport, planning and job support West Yorkshire needs better than the people who live here.”I’ve long been convinced that this broken model has held back our politics and held back our economy. And I’m determined we unbind ourselves and free our potential.”

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1:10

Labour’s plan for more devolution will benefit Scotland, says Gordon Brown

The report on the UK’s future, commissioned two years ago, also makes the following recommendations:• Handing new economic, taxation and law-making powers to mayors and devolved governments• Sweeping constitutional reform in an attempt to “clean up politics”• Banning almost all second jobs for MPs• Moving 50,000 civil servants – 10% of the workforce – out of London• Developing 300 “economic clusters” around the country – from precision medicine in Glasgow to creative media in Bristol and Bath – with the aim of doubling growth in the UK• Extra powers for Scotland and Wales, with restored and strengthened devolution in Northern Ireland• A new culture of co-operation between the UK government, England’s regions, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Click to subscribe to the Sophy Ridge on Sunday podcastElsewhere in his morning broadcast media round, Sir Keir said he does not want to abolish private schools, but argued their existing tax breaks cannot be “justified”.He also said he does not believe returning to the single market would boost the UK’s economic growth – but added that he believes there is a case for a “better Brexit”.Meanwhile, probed on whether former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could be readmitted to the party, Sir Keir told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “I don’t see the circumstances in which he will stand at the next election as a Labour MP.”Read more politics stories:Tories should be extremely worried by swing in Chester by-electionStarmer’s dig over private school tax stirs up hornet’s nest that could leave him stungMr Corbyn had the whip removed over his response to the scathing Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report into antisemitism in the party.A government source said: “This report highlights what we already know about Labour – that while the government is focusing on the major issues people care about, Keir Starmer is playing politics with topics only relevant in Westminster.”

Flexible working can be requested from first day of new job, under govt plans

Sky News politics

Workers across the UK will soon be able to request flexible working from day one on the job, under new plans by the government.Under the legislation making its way through parliament, employees will no longer be required to wait 26 weeks before making a request for flexible working arrangements.
Employers will be required to consult with workers and discuss alternative options before rejecting a request. The period of time within which employers must respond to a request has also reduced, down from three to two months.Such flexible work arrangements can include working altered hours, job sharing or working remotely. Two requests can be made within a 12-month period as part of proposals.Under the existing legal framework, employees must set out the effects of the requested flexible working arrangement to their bosses. But this is also to be removed by the proposed legislation.
The move comes as the government responds to the making flexible working the default consultation, set up last year to reform flexible working regulations.It’s hoped the proposals will make for happier, more productive workers.

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Clauses which limit workers doing jobs for multiple employers are also to be prohibited for low paid workers.So-called exclusivity clauses are to be removed for an estimated 1.5 million workers with a guaranteed weekly income at or below £123, the lower earnings limit. When implemented, the legislation will allow workers to take up multiple short-term contracts.

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It’s hoped this will particularly benefit students or people with caring responsibilities who need more flexibility over where and when they work.It’s also hoped the measures could add more workers to the employment market and make it easier for employers to hire staff as the number of jobs outstrips the number of available workers.There has been an increase in “economic inactivity” since the pandemic as the number of people neither working nor seeking work has risen to more than nine million people, one-in-five working age adults.A mental health crisis is also causing workers to drop out of the labour market and fuelling staff shortages.

Starmer to pledge ‘biggest ever’ transfer of power as report outlines sweeping reform plans

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Sir Keir Starmer will promise the “biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people”, as the Labour leader launches a report recommending handing new economic, taxation and law-making powers to mayors and devolved governments.The report on the UK’s future, carried out by former prime minister Gordon Brown, also recommends sweeping constitutional reform in an attempt to “clean up politics”.
It includes replacing the House of Lords with a democratic chamber, banning almost all second jobs for MPs, and moving 50,000 civil servants – 10% of the workforce – out of London.The decentralisation of power and money away from Westminster will be pitched as a continuation of Tony Blair’s reforms and Labour’s answer to the Tories’ levelling up agenda – as Sir Keir looks to pitch himself as a prime minister-in-waiting with a serious plan for Britain.But the Labour leader will not accept any of the recommendations on Monday when he launches the report, arguing instead that they will now be consulted on, raising obvious questions as to whether policy proposals will match the rhetoric should Labour win the next election.
However, a source close to the Labour leader insisted that Sir Keir wouldn’t have let recommendations reach the final report if he wasn’t minded on implementing them.He described the report as a “blueprint” to address these issues and “work out where to go in the next two years”.”We’re serious about implementation,” said a Labour figure.”This is methodical, Keir Starmer working through how you pull the levers.”

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1:14

‘We have to make Brexit work’

What else is in Starmer’s plan?Labour’s view is that George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse or Boris Johnson’s levelling up agenda were the right ambition but failed to grasp that it only works if power is devolved away from Westminster, rather than handing out pots of money from London.As such, one key recommendation of the commission will be to end the system of distributing funds from Whitehall, with money instead being devolved to local areas to make those decisions.Within the 40 recommendations in the report are plans to give devolved governments, mayors and local authorities new powers over transport and housing, economic development and job creation.Sir Keir also wants to develop 300 “economic clusters” around the country – from precision medicine in Glasgow to creative media in Bristol and Bath – with the aim of doubling growth in the UK.The report, commissioned by Sir Keir two years ago, will also recommend transferring 50,000 civil servants – just over 10% of the current workforce – out of Whitehall in order to devolve decision-making and jobs out of London.Sir Keir also wants to “clean up” politics and bring in reform.As such, he’s likely to back proposals to end MPs from having second jobs and introduce new rules to “end the undue influence of wealth and foreign money” in politics.Read more: Tories should be extremely worried by swing in Chester by-electionSir Keir’s dig over private school tax stirs up hornet’s nest that could leave him stungThe Labour leader also wants to “get rid of the indefensible House of Lords” with the report recommending a new, democratically elected second chamber to represent the regions and nations of the UK.However, the Labour leader has suggested he might not be able to do this until Labour wins a second term, raising questions as to whether such a commitment would appear in the next Labour manifesto.

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0:40

‘Government is worn out’

Speaking at the launch of this report in Leeds on Monday, Sir Keir is expected to say that the “centre hasn’t delivered” as he pledges to “rebalance the economy and bring about higher standards in public life”.The Labour leader will also frame this report as a response to both the Brexit and Scottish independence referendums.”I argued for remain. But I couldn’t disagree with the basic case that many leave voters made to me. They wanted democratic control over their lives,” Sir Keir will say, arguing these frustrations of “a Westminster system that seems remote” was also a drive for the 2014 independence referendum.”People know Britain needs change. But they are never going to get it from the Tories.”I am determined that, with Labour, people will get the change they deserve.”

Braverman pledges to do ‘whatever it takes’ to tackle migrant crossings

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The home secretary has pledged to do “whatever it takes” to deal with the “small boats problem” in the Channel.Writing a foreword to a report by the centre-right Centre for Policy Studies think tank – which has called for new laws stopping migrants who enter illegally from ever settling in the UK – Suella Braverman said the numbers making the perilous crossing were “wholly unacceptable and unsustainable”.
She added that ministers would “comprehensively tackle the small boats problem”.Politics latest – Hancock condemned for his account of how care home were handled during COVIDMs Braverman insisted that calling for action on illegal migration was not “xenophobic or anti-immigration” and that she and Rishi Sunak were committed to dealing with the issue.
“The British public are fair-minded, tolerant and generous in spirit. But we are fed up with the continued flouting of our laws and immigration rules to game our asylum system,” she wrote.”And we’ve had enough of the persistent abuse of human rights laws to thwart the removal of those with no right to be in the UK. This must end.

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“Saying so is not xenophobic or anti-immigration. It is the reality acknowledged and felt by the vast majority of the British public. To pretend otherwise is to insult them.”She added: “The prime minister and I are committed to doing whatever it takes. We are finalising our plan, and we will deliver the operational and legislative changes necessary to comprehensively tackle this problem.”

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Click to subscribe to the Sky News Daily wherever you get your podcastsThe Centre for Policy Studies’ report – co-authored by Theresa May’s former adviser Nick Timothy – calls for the overhaul of human rights laws, with the UK “if necessary” withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, to allow detentions and offshoring the processing of asylum claims.And it states that ministers should be looking for deals with other countries to supplement the currently stalled plan to deport migrants to Rwanda for processing.The Home Office declined to comment on a report in The Sunday Times, claiming ministers are working on legislation which could ban asylum seekers who enter by illegal routes from ever settling in the UK.

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2:29

Home secretary admits migration failure

Mr Timothy said tackling the issue would require a “completely different approach” from government, addressing a series of interconnected public problems.”If we are to stop the crossings, we will need to take immediate and bold action,” he said. “It is not something that can be fixed through gradual, incremental change.”It comes as Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said Albanians should be “excluded from the right to claim asylum” as they are coming from a “demonstrably safe” country.Read more:’It’s no life here’: Albanians undeterred from seeking a life in the UKThe government is under intense pressure from Conservative MPs to get to grips with the issue of people traffickers using small boats to ferry migrants across the Channel.

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1:46

Chaotic scenes as migrants try to cross the Channel

Albanians account for over a third of the 33,000 Channel migrants who arrived in the first nine months of this year, and Mr Jenrick said they were now the “number one priority”.Last week, Mr Sunak held his first talks with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in which they agreed to close “loopholes” preventing the rapid return of failed asylum seekers.

Labour will create new second chamber as current Lords set-up ‘indefensible’ – Gordon Brown

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Labour will create a new democratic second chamber called the Assembly of Nations and Regions, Gordon Brown has said – as he branded the current House of Lords set-up “indefensible”.The former prime minister said his party will make abolishing the House of Lords a key part of reforms to the parliamentary system and revealed that it is a proposal included in the Commission on the UK’s Future report which he has produced for Labour.
The report also sets out proposals for tackling corruption in politics, and banning MPs from having second jobs.Politics latest – Hancock condemned for his account of how care home were handled during COVID”The current House of Lords is indefensible,” the former Labour leader told journalists.
He added: “Every second chamber in the world, with very few exceptions, is relatively small and usually smaller than the first chamber. And we’ve now got a House of Lords that has got 830 members.”That is compared with the American senate which has 100 members to cover 300 million people – we have got a House of Lords which is 800-plus to cover only 60 million people.

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“Therefore the current system is indefensible.”Mr Brown said the new second chamber Labour proposes would have a “role in protecting the devolution settlement”, seeking to prevent the Sewell Convention – which states Westminster should not normally legislate in areas reserved to the devolved governments without their consent – being “overridden”.

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He added that he believes the issue of House of Lords reform will “come to a head again” when Boris Johnson reveals his resignations honours list.

Mr Brown also insisted there will be a ban on second jobs for MPs if Labour wins the next election – though he indicated there could be an exemption to that for those MPs who need to work to maintain professional qualifications such as doctors and lawyers.Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer appeared to hint that some of the reforms contained in the report he commissioned may take some time to deliver.”Whether it’s the reforms in this report or more generally, it is realistically going to take more than one term for Labour to turn our country around,” the Labour leader told The Sunday Times.He added that consideration about “when and how this is implemented” would come after Monday, when the report is published.But Tory peer Lord Norton has urged caution over “Big Bang reform” to parliament’s second chamber after suggestions it should replaced with elected representatives.Read more politics stories:Tories should be extremely worried by swing in Chester by-electionStarmer’s dig over private school tax stirs up hornet’s nest that could leave him stungHe told Times Radio: “The problems with Gordon Brown’s proposals and to some extent with what Keir Starmer has been saying, on the one hand he was talking about getting rid of the Lord’s while maintaining to continue its current functions, as if you can separate discrete entities – the way a body is chosen and the job that it does – and the two are clearly linked.”So the present task does add value in terms of the law of this country, in regards to ensuring this nation has good law is a public good and I think the House of Lords contributes to that which is its principal role – its detailed legislative scrutiny, it improves the law of this country.”So we want to, I would argue, retain that.”So one has to be wary of some Big Bang reform, grand reform, which often takes the form of displacement activity – the nation’s got problems, people must come up with constitutional reform because it’s a fairly simple, straightforward proposal, rather than actually getting down to the real issues.”

Army may be deployed to ease possible strike disruption over Christmas

Sky News politics

The government is considering deploying the army to help ease possible strike disruption over Christmas, Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi has confirmed.Mr Zahawi told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that military personnel could be “driving ambulances” and working on UK borders under the proposals.
The Conservative Party chairman also suggested that pharmacists will be called on to help break the NHS strike action, saying “we have to be able to deliver safe levels of treatment and support to patients”.”We’ve got to try and minimise disruption,” he added.Hancock condemned for his account of how care home were handled during COVID – politics latest
The government has said that military personnel, civil servants and volunteers are being trained to support a range of services, including Border Force at airports and ports, amid fears of Christmas chaos.A statement from Number 10 said the decision on whether troops would be deployed was yet to be taken, but that personnel “are part of the range of options available should strike action in these areas go ahead as planned”.

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The UK faces a wave of strikes this winter, which will affect services including transport, the NHS, education and delivery drivers.Tens of thousands are expected to take industrial action as the UK is gripped by recession and the cost of living crisis.

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Mr Zahawi told Sky News that “this is not a time to strike”.”If you chase inflation or above inflation, in some cases pay, then you will embed inflation for longer and hurt the most vulnerable,” he said.”In fact, our message to the unions is to say, you know, this is not a time to strike. This is time to try and negotiate.”In the absence of that, it’s important for the government. It’s the right and responsible thing to do, to have contingency plans in place.”Read more:Sunak seeks ‘constructive’ approach with time running out to avoid winter of strikesStrikes every day before Christmas – which sectors are affected and whyHe continued: “We’re looking at the military, we’re looking at a specialist response force… surge capacity.”

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2:03

How will strikes affect businesses?

A statement from the Cabinet Office said around 2,000 military personnel and civil servants are being trained to support a range of services – including Border Force at airports and ports – in the event of strike action.They include up to 600 armed forces personnel and 700 staff from the government’s specialist surge and rapid response team, as well as other parts of the civil service.”Decisions are yet to be taken on deploying troops to these tasks but they are part of the range of options available should strike action in these areas go ahead as planned,” the Cabinet Office said in a a press notice.”The priority over the coming weeks is to protect the public who may need access to emergency services support and limit disruption as much as possible, particularly at a time when increased numbers of people will be travelling for the festive period and NHS services are under huge pressure due to the impact of COVID.”Military personnel were previously deployed to drive petrol tankers and deliver COVID jabs during the pandemic. Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen dismissed a call by Mr Zahawi for the union to drop its pay claim because of the war in Ukraine.”Using Russia’s war in Ukraine as a justification for a real-terms pay cut for nurses in the UK is a new low for this government. The public does not believe this kind of rhetoric and wants ministers to address our dispute,” she said.”Nursing staff cannot afford their food and other bills and still fear the worst on energy this winter. But our campaign is about more than today’s cost-of-living crisis – it’s a cry for help for an NHS that’s had a decade of neglect. Record numbers of nurses are leaving because they feel undervalued and patients are paying the price.”Ten days until our strike action is due to begin, I reiterate my commitment to meeting with ministers to address our dispute. Instead of negotiating with nurses, they are choosing strike action.”Labour’s education secretary Bridget Phillipson could not confirm whether her party would increase pay in line with inflation in the public sector.She told Sky News her party want a “fair deal” for workers.

Army may be deployed to ease possible strike disruption over Christmas

Sky News politics

The government is considering deploying the army to help ease possible strike disruption over Christmas, Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi has confirmed.Mr Zahawi told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that military personnel could be “driving ambulances” and working on UK borders under the proposals.
The Conservative Party chairman also suggested that pharmacists will be called on to help break the NHS strike action, saying “we have to be able to deliver safe levels of treatment and support to patients”.”We’ve got to try and minimise disruption,” he added.Hancock condemned for his account of how care home were handled during COVID – politics latest
The government has said that military personnel, civil servants and volunteers are being trained to support a range of services, including Border Force at airports and ports, amid fears of Christmas chaos.A statement from Number 10 said the decision on whether troops would be deployed was yet to be taken, but that personnel “are part of the range of options available should strike action in these areas go ahead as planned”.

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The UK faces a wave of strikes this winter, which will affect services including transport, the NHS, education and delivery drivers.Tens of thousands are expected to take industrial action as the UK is gripped by recession and the cost of living crisis.

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Mr Zahawi told Sky News that “this is not a time to strike”.”If you chase inflation or above inflation, in some cases pay, then you will embed inflation for longer and hurt the most vulnerable,” he said.”In fact, our message to the unions is to say, you know, this is not a time to strike. This is time to try and negotiate.”In the absence of that, it’s important for the government. It’s the right and responsible thing to do, to have contingency plans in place.”Read more:Sunak seeks ‘constructive’ approach with time running out to avoid winter of strikesStrikes every day before Christmas – which sectors are affected and whyHe continued: “We’re looking at the military, we’re looking at a specialist response force… surge capacity.”

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2:03

How will strikes affect businesses?

A statement from the Cabinet Office said around 2,000 military personnel and civil servants are being trained to support a range of services – including Border Force at airports and ports – in the event of strike action.They include up to 600 armed forces personnel and 700 staff from the government’s specialist surge and rapid response team, as well as other parts of the civil service.”Decisions are yet to be taken on deploying troops to these tasks but they are part of the range of options available should strike action in these areas go ahead as planned,” the Cabinet Office said in a a press notice.”The priority over the coming weeks is to protect the public who may need access to emergency services support and limit disruption as much as possible, particularly at a time when increased numbers of people will be travelling for the festive period and NHS services are under huge pressure due to the impact of COVID.”Military personnel were previously deployed to drive petrol tankers and deliver COVID jabs during the pandemic. Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen dismissed a call by Mr Zahawi for the union to drop its pay claim because of the war in Ukraine.”Using Russia’s war in Ukraine as a justification for a real-terms pay cut for nurses in the UK is a new low for this government. The public does not believe this kind of rhetoric and wants ministers to address our dispute,” she said.”Nursing staff cannot afford their food and other bills and still fear the worst on energy this winter. But our campaign is about more than today’s cost-of-living crisis – it’s a cry for help for an NHS that’s had a decade of neglect. Record numbers of nurses are leaving because they feel undervalued and patients are paying the price.”Ten days until our strike action is due to begin, I reiterate my commitment to meeting with ministers to address our dispute. Instead of negotiating with nurses, they are choosing strike action.”Labour’s education secretary Bridget Phillipson could not confirm whether her party would increase pay in line with inflation in the public sector.She told Sky News her party want a “fair deal” for workers.

PM seeks ‘constructive’ approach with time running out to avoid bleak winter of strikes

Sky News politics

As a winter of strike action looms, and a growing list of unions threaten to grind the county to a halt, the PM is under pressure.Rishi Sunak is attempting a more constructive, less combative, approach with the unions.
A government source said the meetings involving Mick Lynch and the transport secretary and rail minister were “courteous” and “constructive”.He said the government is treading a careful line between “being tough but also being human and treating people with respect”.

There is a certain amount of public sympathy for industrial action, particularly when it comes to health care workers, but some Conservatives want tougher action on the unions.
A senior Tory backbencher told me the government needs to go “further and faster” with laws to curb public sector rights, and “outcome not process” is needed.One option we understand is on the table is to expand plans to ensure transport services run during strike action.

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The plans, which were brought to parliament under Liz Truss, ensure minimum staffing levels are maintained at all times or transport unions risk losing legal protections.No decisions have yet been made, civil servants are working all weekend and preparing a number of options to limit strike action.

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A government source said there remains a “small window” of opportunity to restore the Christmas rail timetable, but there is “a mountain to climb”.The source said, “we are tempering optimism with realism”. The reality is the time to avert a bleak December of strikes is running out.Read more: Christmas travel warning as road workers to strike at same time as rail walkouts

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0:25

Strikes ‘a lot on government’s plate’

But this is about more than Christmas, without a breakthrough, and the government making clear sweeping inflation-level pay rises are unaffordable, the row will persist next year.As the strain of strike action drags and a general election slowly creeps into view, industrial action will focus minds and swing votes.The tone may have changed, but there’s no easy fix to the problem of public sector pay.

Tory MP Conor Burns has Conservative whip restored

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Tory MP Conor Burns has had the Conservative whip restored and will be reinstated as a Conservative member.The Bournemouth West MP, 50, was sacked as trade minister in October following an allegation of “serious misconduct”.
A Conservative Party spokesman said the party concluded Mr Burns has no case to answer over a complaint that was made against him in early October.Mr Burns described the last two months as “a living nightmare”, in an interview with the paper.He said he was caught in the “crossfire of the dying days” of Liz Truss’s government, with him being “thrown to the wolves”.
He added: “I knew that I would come out the other side of this and my name would be clear because there was nothing to what had happened”.Mr Burns said he believed he had been the victim of a “stitch up” because of complimentary remarks he made about Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch who was one of Ms Truss’s rivals for the Tory leadership over the summer.”I think this all had become more to do with nice things I had said about the Trade Secretary than about being up late at the conference,” he said.”It felt and smelt like a stitch up and that is what it was.”

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In a statement, a Conservative Party spokesman said: “The party received a complaint and investigated in line with its code of conduct.”After undertaking appropriate inquiries and reviewing all of the evidence available to establish the facts, the party concluded that there was no basis on which to investigate further.”The matter is now closed and Mr Burns’s membership will be reinstated at the nearest possible opportunity.”Read more:Conor Burns resigns as ministerConor Burns denies ever meeting singer Mel BMr Burns was sacked as trade minister just weeks before Ms Truss resigned as Prime Minister just 44 days after taking over from Boris Johnson.The former Northern Ireland minister said he would co-operate fully with the probe.Sky News analysis of House of Commons library data found that Mr Burns was set to receive a severance payment of £7,290 – three times his pro-rata salary of £2,602.He has been an MP since 2010 and held a number of ministerial positions under Boris Johnson, to whom he was fiercely loyal.

Hancock: Ministers were warned about COVID deaths, but Johnson said ‘it will probably go away’

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Matt Hancock has said he was warned the COVID pandemic could kill hundreds of thousands of people in the UK two months before the country was put into lockdown and claims ministers “did not really believe it”.
The former health secretary said the chief medical officer for England, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, informed him in January 2020 that, in a “reasonable worst case scenario”, as many as 820,000 could die.
Mr Hancock said when he passed on the warning to other ministers at a cabinet meeting three days later, the reaction was “shrug shrug” as they did not really believe it.The details are revealed in Mr Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries: The Inside Story Of Britain’s Battle Against Covid, serialised in the Daily Mail and The Mail+.He said that on 17 January, Sir Whitty warned that there was a “50:50” chance that the virus would reach Britain and laid out the figures.
“The whole room froze. We are looking at a human catastrophe on a scale not seen here for a century.”

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14:56

How long COVID ruined my life

However, when he shared the warning with a Brexit Day meeting of the Cabinet on 31 January, he said it was met largely with indifference.”The reaction was somewhat ‘shrug shrug’ – essentially because they didn’t really believe it. I am constantly feeling that others, who aren’t focused on this every day, are weeks behind what’s going on,” he said.

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Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson at a Cabinet meeting in September 2020

Johnson: ‘It will probably go away’

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Mr Hancock also suggested that Boris Johnson had been reluctant to engage on the issue.When he first raised the outbreak in China with him in early January, his response had been: “You keep an eye on it. It will probably go away.”Read more:Are care homes now safer?COVID cases in UK top one million again A month later he said he warned Mr Johnson that while it might still be possible to contain the virus, it was “more likely we’re going down”. The reply, he said, was simply: “Bash on.”

More than 200,000 people with COVID have died in the UK, figures show.The details were released as Mr Hancock returned to Westminster for the first time after his controversial appearance on I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!Hancock defends release of care home residentsMr Hancock also defended his handling of the controversial decision to release care home residents from hospital without testing, which was blamed for thousands of deaths.On 2 April, he noted: “The tragic but honest truth is we don’t have enough testing capacity to check anyway. It’s an utter nightmare, but it’s the reality.”In April, the High Court ruled the government acted unlawfully by discharging untested hospital patients into care homes during the early stages of the pandemic.The first national lockdown began on 23 March 2020.

Starmer’s sly dig over private school tax stirs up hornet’s nest that could leave him stung | Adam Boulton

Sky News politics

The leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer is having to adapt his approach to Prime Minister’s Questions for the third time.With Boris Johnson and Liz Truss he was in his comfort zone as a prosecutor. The senior barrister and King’s Counsel and former director of public prosecutions painstakingly assembled the case against his opponents for their documented failures and personal misdeeds.
The sober family man Rishi Sunak with his commitment to restoring “accountability” in government presents a more difficult target. About the only thing that Starmer can hit him with is that fact that the prime minister is very rich.He is the richest member of the government and perhaps in the Commons, largely thanks to his wife whose family founded the tech company Infosys.At PMQs this week Starmer must have felt he had found a fertile line of attack when he opened up on the tax status of private schools. Opinion polls show consistently that only 10% of those surveyed think that they should keep their charitable status without further reform and with it exemption from VAT at 20% on school fees.
Since only 7% of children go to independent schools (rising to 10% at sixth form) Starmer must have calculated that most people were either indifferent or hostile to those who use them. He may be right. Labour’s intention to tax school fees was largely unremarked on in Corbyn’s manifesto at the last election.But in drawing attention to his continued support for the plan and personalising his attack, Starmer has stirred up a hornet’s nest which could leave him with some stings. Education and what school you and your children went to are sensitive topics about which many people have ambivalent feelings.

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Starmer has insisted, high-mindedly, that Sunak’s wealth is irrelevant to their political battle. He defended the prime minister’s resort to a private GP on the grounds that many people go private for operations. Yet he spearheaded his main attack at PMQs this week with a sly dig at the expensive and elite private school which the prime minister attended and to which he has made a personal donation of £100,000.”Winchester College has a rowing club, a rifle club and an extensive art collection. It charges more than £45,000 a year in fees,” Starmer informed the House. “Why did the prime minister hand Winchester nearly £6m of taxpayers’ money this year, in what his Levelling Up Secretary has called ‘egregious state support’?”

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Sunak defends public school funding

Sunak responded by defending the government’s record on state education, but when Starmer continued to play the man: “Is that £6m of taxpayers’ money better spent on rifle ranges in Winchester, or on driving up standards in Southampton?” [where Sunak grew up] – the prime minister responded in kind:”Whenever the Leader of the Opposition attacks me about where I went to school, he is attacking the aspiration of millions of hard-working people in this country. He is attacking people like my parents. This is the country that believes in opportunity, not resentment. He does not understand that, and that is why he is not fit to lead the country.”Politics of envy rarely plays well for LabourStarmer’s concentration on this topic was a significant development.Since he became party leader he has been trying to reassure voters that Labour would not execute a radical Jeremy Corbyn-style jerk away from current policies if he wins the next election. Attacking private schools is red meat for Labour activists straight from Corbyn’s wish list, which may have little appeal to swing voters. It has also enabled the Conservatives to hit home with traditional counter attacks, alleging “class war”, which had hitherto bounced off Starmer.It is little comfort to some in the Labour Party that Starmer seems to have been goaded into raising private schools by a sustained campaign against his plans in the Daily Mail, a relentless cheerleader for aspiration and scourge of the Labour Party. A veteran of the last Labour government bluntly criticised Starmer to The Times: “It was bold. Or as Tony used to say, bold but stupid.”Whatever its merits, “politics of envy”, or being seen to oppose social aspiration, has seldom played well for Labour. If it worked Margaret “Let some grow taller” Thatcher would never have been prime minister for 11 years. Voters don’t seem to care much about where their leaders went to school either, otherwise Britain would not have had a string of Old Etonian prime ministers in David Cameron and Boris Johnson or indeed Tony Blair – educated at Fettes College, the poshest school in Scotland.

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Boris Johnson and David Cameron went to Eton – the most prestigious of all private schools

The economic arguments are not as clear-cut as either Starmer or Conservative ministers suggest. For a start taxpayers do not “hand” £1.7bn a year to independent schools as Starmer claims. The Treasury is simply not raising that potential sum from taxes by not imposing VAT on schools registered as Charities. According to the Daily Mail, a “double whammy” also ending forgiveness on business rates could raise a further £150m.Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, claims there would be no net gain to national finances because 90,000 of the 500,000 children now at independent schools would be priced out. Finding them places in state schools would cost more in already overstretched budgets than was raised.He was using calculations commissioned by the Independent Schools’ Council, branded “lobbyists” by Labour. But Labour’s favourite counter research from the IFS is unconvincing. Luke Sibieta, an IFS researcher, says there was little drop in demand when fees went up by 23% between 2010 and 2020.Little evidence of antipathy towards private schoolsA gradual rise over a decade is not the same as a one off 20% tax hike following a cost of living crisis. To complaints that private schools are being subsidised through the tax system, some parents reply that it is they who are subsidising state schools by paying their taxes for school places their children do not take up.There is little evidence of widespread antipathy towards private schools. Only 10% were for keeping the tax exemptions in the YouGov poll. A further 24% thought private schools could keep them if they did more for state schools. Some 19% didn’t know.

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Tony Blair went to Fettes College

Many of the bigger schools do provide facilities and expertise to the local community, under close scrutiny by the Charity Commission. One fifth of private school children receive assistance with the fees. The obligation and, perhaps, the inclination to do these things might disappear if charity status is abolished.Instead of squeezing private schools and casting aspersions on those who attended them, it would be straight forward if Labour planned to ban private schools. There is an argument championed by Fiona Millar, Alastair Campbell’s partner, that this would be beneficial because all parents and children would be invested in a uniform state system.But this is not Labour policy, nor could it be, so long as Labour champions parental rights and choice, embracing religious, specialised and grammar schools and homeschooling.These days, many in Labour do not want to dwell on the issue at all.Last century, Charlie Falconer was appointed to the Lords because he could not find a seat to become an MP. Selection committees turned him down because he refused to take his children out of private school. One of those sons, Hamish, educated at Westminster School, is running to be Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Lincoln at the next election.Sir Keir Starmer’s old school, Reigate Grammar, became fee paying while he was there, although he was exempted. He would be well advised to rethink the role played by personal attacks in his sallies at PMQS.

December 2022
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