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Starmer’s bid to engage Armed Forces is a pale shadow of Corbyn’s

Keir Starmer: I adapted this mock-up of him pretending to be a soldier from a right-wing site that was mocking him.

Isn’t it strange how Keir Starmer is attacking the legacy of Jeremy Corbyn in public while failing to offer anything better than watered-down versions of the former Labour leader’s policies?

Today is Armed Forces Day, so Starmer has rolled out a weak-ass offer to the UK’s serving men and women, under the banner of the existing “Friends of the Forces”.

It comes with absolutely no offers at all – just an undertaking to “listen” to the views of forces personnel.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey said he wanted to hear the views of service men and women. The party’s current position is that the Tory government should devote a chapter of its upcoming defence and security review to military personnel, overhaul the country’s covenant with serving forces, and champion the armed forces in public.

Compare this with Jeremy Corbyn’s five pledges for the armed forces, as described in Labour’s election manifesto last year that Starmer doesn’t seem to have read:

  1. Fair Pay – scrap the public sector pay cap, which has seen a 5.8% real terms pay cut for the starting salary of an Army Private
  2. Decent housing for forces and their families – end the growing reliance on the private rented sector
  3. A voice for service men and women – consult on creating a representative body, similar to the Police Federation
  4. End privatisation – root and branch review of outsourcing and a clear presumption in favour of public delivery of public contracts
  5. Support for forces children – better access to schools with dedicated local authorities admissions strategy for the particular challenge of frequent school moves

Those were solid promises, not wishy-washy offers to “listen”. Corbyn’s plan would have made a difference.

Starmer’s is just a public relations ploy.

Source: Starmer launches Labour Friends of the Forces engagement programme – LabourList

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Hancock’s had his half-hour – he has pulled out of Tory leadership race

Bye bye: Matt Hancock has pulled out of the Tory leadership race.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has given up his attempt to be Conservative leader after attracting only 20 votes in the first round of the Tory leadership election.

Perhaps he wants to concentrate on privatising the National Health Service so we can’t rely on it in the nightmarish future that will be carved out by whoever wins.

Pole position was taken by Boris Johnson, who has declared that he will appear in a televised debate in what the pundits on the BBC’s PoliticsLive seem to think is a challenge for all the other candidates to stay in the race.

It seems he thinks he’ll look more “prime ministerial” if he can present himself as the man of stature with lots of political minnows nipping at his heels.

This Writer certainly hopes he has a big surprise on the day.

Certainly Mr Hancock is no big loss. He failed to make an impact and was right to pull out. His was exactly the kind of “vanity” candidacy that the Telegraph reckons party members wanted to quit.

In a statement, Hancock said: “I ran as the candidate of the future, but the party is understandably looking for a candidate for the unique circumstances we face right now.”

“I have therefore decided to withdraw from this contest, and I will look for the best way to advance the values we fought for, of free enterprise, and an open, aspirational, free society, underpinned by an optimistic belief in the value of each individual person.”

Source: Matt Hancock pulls out of Conservative leadership race | Politics | The Guardian

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The candidates: Is Boris Johnson really worthy of being prime minister?

‘Poodle’: Boris Johnson is left at the door while EU politicians make the big decisions in this cartoon. Is that the kind of prime minister we want?

I’ll answer that question straight away: Probably not.

Theresa May has announced her resignation, and the launch of an election procedure for the leadership of the Conservative Party (and the prime ministership of the United Kingdom), starting on June 7.

Several prominent Tories have thrown their hats into the ring but, while they may be popular in party circles, that does not make them ideal national leaders.

In fact, some commentators are saying previous incumbents, like Mrs May and David Cameron before her, have poisoned the prime ministerial chalice so badly that it is a mark of stupidity to want it.

Take Boris Johnson, currently in pole position. Many Tory MPs – especially Brexiters – think he is ideal to take the UK out of the European Union.

But is he really, when he is facing a private prosecution for misconduct in public office, over his false claim in the slogan that the UK gives £350 million to the EU every week, “let’s fund the NHS instead”?

His lawyer is arguing that the claim was not attached to his work as a member of Parliament, but an easy counter-argument is that – as an MP – he should not mislead the public with false information.

Martin Fletcher in The New Statesman is fairly uncompromising in his verdict on Mr Johnson, saying if elected he would be “the least-qualified prime minister of modern times”… to face the “gravest crisis since the Second World War – a crisis of which he was a principal architect”.

He wrote: “Johnson’s only ministerial experience consists of two dire years as foreign secretary – a stint memorable for his gaffes, gratuitous insults, guff about creating a “Global Britain” and constant undermining of Theresa May.

“As London’s mayor … “Boris Bikes” were Ken Livingstone’s idea, the Thames cable car and ArcelorMittal Orbit tower were expensive flops, and his ultimate vanity project, the aborted Garden Bridge, cost £53m without a brick being laid.

“Before that, Johnson served briefly as shadow arts minister, but was fired by Michael Howard, then Tory leader, for lying about one of his extramarital affairs.

“He is a congenital liar, serially disloyal, untrustworthy, irresponsible and hopelessly chaotic – as David Cameron, Michael Gove, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, his former wives, and many others know only too well.

“He has shown an almost criminal disregard for Britain’s economic well-being (“Fuck business”) and for Northern Ireland’s fragile peace (he once compared its border to London’s congestion zone). He has no core principles beyond the advancement of one B Johnson, and the idea that he is motivated by a desire to help others is laughable.

“Nor is it easy to see how Johnson could negotiate a better Brexit deal than Theresa May. “We have blinked. We have baulked. We have bottled it completely,” he complains of the government’s efforts since 2016. We need to be tougher, he insists. To threaten a no-deal Brexit and to mean it. To force Brussels to blink first.

“That is pure fantasy. Johnson is abhorred throughout the EU, which he once compared to the Third Reich. Europe’s leaders would know, moreover, that parliament remained overwhelmingly opposed to a no-deal Brexit. There is no way they would make concessions to Johnson that they denied to May. It is doubtful they would even agree to reopen negotiations, let alone extend the Article 50 deadline once more.

“Johnson’s fundamental problem is that the have-your-cake-and-eat-it Brexit that he promised voters in the referendum was never remotely attainable. If, heaven forbid, he becomes prime minister he will finally be exposed for the snake-oil salesman that he is, but the country will have paid a grievous price.”

Watch Mr Johnson squirm as his past behaviour was raised in an interview on the Marr show last week:

Would you like more? Here:

Yet Mr Johnson is front-runner to be prime minister because of the tribalism of ‘Little England’ Tory Party members. What will that do for the United Kingdom?

https://twitter.com/ToryFibs/status/1131895920080117763

https://twitter.com/AJobTracker/status/1131889165572943872

That’s not much of a future.

No wonder so many people are calling for a general election – to purify the well, in a manner of speaking, and try to return some integrity to British politics.

It is a convincing argument – unless you’re a Tory. They won’t accept the evidence until they have caused another disaster.

We’ll know the name of that disaster by the end of July.

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RUMBLED: Agony for Auntie as BBC bid to host Brexit debate is canned

True blue BBC: It seems there’s a reason the signage is that colour.

Wow. And only a couple of days ago we were discussing Theresa May’s mid-air hissy fit. That was nothing in comparison with this!

After Jeremy Corbyn gave the BBC’s proposed format for a TV debate on Brexit the bum’s rush, the BBC News press team has dramatically withdrawn its offer to host the event.

Representatives of the Corporation said they weren’t interested in hosting a straightforward, head-to-head confrontation, as demanded by Mr Corbyn.

Based on this evidence, it would be hard to believe the BBC was not acting as a stooge for the Conservative leader.

Here’s the statement from the BBC News press team:

For those who can’t read images, it says [with my commentary in bold]: “We are disappointed that we could not reach an agreement on the BBC’s proposal for a debate on Brexit.” Fair enough.

“We have been clear throughout the whole of this process that, as well as a substantive head-to-head debate, any programme we broadcast would need to include other voices, including other political parties, to reflect the wide range of views the public and parliamentarians hold about Brexit.” That was a mistake; the challenge was for a head-to-head debate and it was not the BBC’s business to try to change it… unless Mrs May had intimated that she would support this when she was negotiating this in one of the meetings that allegedly took place before she issued the challenge?

“The final proposal we put to both of the main parties was for a head-to-head debae between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, followed by a discussion between eight panellists, including politicians, with a wide range of views on Brexit, and ending with further head-to-head debate and closing statements. That’s a terrible idea. It provides far too much leeway for the BBC to stack the show with anti-Corbyn sentiment – or to be criticised for it. The BBC, often criticised for pro-Tory content, may have had a lucky escape there.

“We believe ours was a fair and appropriate format for those taking part and, crucially, for our audiences around the country, and it is a shame we will not be able to bring them this programme.” And this is why we called the Corporation “Auntie”. BBC bosses seem to think they know what’s good for us. In terms of politics, it should never be the BBC’s business to try to tell us what to think.

“However, we will keep our audiences informed with extensive news coverage and analysis around the vote, and with other programmes including a Brexitcast ‘takeover’ of the One Show tomorrow [December 5] and a specially half-hour programme on Monday 10 December.” Given what the Corporation just revealed about itself, perhaps even that is too much.

The withdrawal of the BBC leaves just one contender to host the debate: Jeremy Corbyn’s preference – ITV.

This puts Mrs May in something of a quandary.

It seems clear she has been trying to manoeuvre Mr Corbyn into a position where she can accuse him – of not understanding her Brexit plan; of trying to sabotage Brexit; or even of running away from a TV debate.

But now, with her BBC set-up scotched and all the smart money saying she won’t agree to the ITV plan, it seems that – once again – Mrs May will be the one accused of “running away”.

In fact, the Labour Party has done that already.

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Never mind Sky – has Rupert Murdoch bought Theresa May?

Has Rupert Murdoch bought the UK prime minister’s complicity in his business dealings?

We’ll know soon enough, with his bid to take over the 61 per cent of Sky that he does not yet own.

Mrs May met Mr Murdoch during a flying visit to New York in September – a meeting that many political commentators considered curious, as she is not normally close with the mass media.

Since then, the right-wing media have been hugely supportive of the Conservatives while highly critical of Labour – which is nothing unusual. But would it have been different depending on the outcome of that meeting?

Commentators on Twitter want to know what happened:

Questions about the meeting were asked in Parliament yesterday (December 12).

Concerns have been raised that nothing has changed in Mr Murdoch’s organisation since his last attempt was rejected, several years ago.

And Ofcom has been urged to apply the test of whether Mr Murdoch is a “fit and proper person” to enjoy the huge influence over the UK’s media that full ownership of Sky would confer.

I think we all know the answer to that one!

Theresa May has been asked to reveal whether she has discussed with Rupert Murdoch his new bid to takeover BSKYB.

On Friday the billionaire’s 21st Century Fox company made a fresh £11.2bn offer to take control of the 61% of Sky it does not already own.

His 2011 bid was derailed after it emerged journalists from the News of the World had engaged in phone hacking.

Speaking in the Commons today, Labour’s shadow culture minister Kevin Brennan said voters needed to know “whose side the government is on” and said the bid should be referred to broadcast regulator Ofcom.

Source: Theresa May Pressed To Reveal Details Of Rupert Murdoch Meeting Ahead Of BSKYB Bid

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Crowd-funding bid to tackle government over pensions

150629womenagainstpensioninjustice

A group of women has launched a crowd-funding bid to pay for legal action against the government, claiming that its changes to the State Pension are unfairly prejudiced against women born in the 1950s.

The group, calling themselves Women Against State Pension Inequality, say they were not appropriately – or personally – notified when the Conservative Government of 1995 introduced plans to increase the women’s State Pension age from 60 to 65, and that they were hit again when the Coalition Government brought in a further change to the pensionable age, faster than had been initially claimed.

Because of the way the increases to the  State Pension age have been brought in, it is claimed that women born on or after April 6, 1951 face financial hardship as they have had no time to make alternative plans.

A spokeswoman stated, on the group’s website: “We are raising £6,000. This will pay for initial legal advice from our lawyers Deighton Pierce Glynn and a barrister, to help us assess what the legal options are for us and other women affected by these increases. Depending on what the outcome of that advice is, we may end up doing additional crowdfunding for the next steps in our case. However we are taking this one step at a time and this is the first step to accessing the courts.

“We believe that the Government has a duty of care to its electorate and that it is reasonable to expect to be personally notified and given sufficient notice about matters which have such far-reaching consequences to people’s lives.

“So morally we know we have a strong case, but we’re not sure whether we have a legal case. The odds are stacked against us.

“But if we do have a case, the outcome will affect hundreds of thousands of women, maybe you, a member of your family or a friend who is finding life difficult as a result of this unfairness and inequality.”

For more information or to help fund this legal bid, visit the website here.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Will the government really penalise GPs whose patients opt out of data sharing?

n4s_nhs1

It seems the government has found a way to dissuade GPs from letting patients opt out of having their medical records sold to private firms – the threat of penalties or even an investigation into the way they run their practice.

Vox Political revealed earlier this month that the government is planning to make a profit from selling the private records of NHS patients in England to healthcare and pharmaceutical firms.

The records are said to be ‘anonymised’, but in fact anyone buying your details will be able to identify you.

The system, originally called the General Patient Extraction Service (GPES), now the Health and Social Care Information Centre, may also be described as the care.data scheme. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants you to think the information will be used for medical research and screening for common diseases, but in fact it could be used by private health companies as evidence of failures by the National Health Service, and could help them undercut NHS bids to continue running those services – accelerating the privatisation that nobody wanted.

Patients have the right to withhold their data, but they must specifically inform their medical practice of their wishes. This is why medConfidential created a web page containing a special opt-out form, along with a form letter in various formats, allowing patients to opt out themselves, their children and any adults for whom they are responsible.

Now GPs are living in fear of reprisals if they don’t deliver enough details to the new system.

According to GPonline.com, Health minister Dr Daniel Poulter failed to rule out penalising GP practices with a higher-than-average proportion of patients opting out of new NHS data sharing arrangements.

In a written answer to Labour MP and health select committee member Rosie Cooper, Dr Poulter also refused to say what level of patient opt-out from the scheme would trigger an investigation.

Asked whether practices would be penalised, who would investigate practices with a high opt-out rate, and at what threshold this would apply, Mr Poulter said: “NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre will work with the BMA, the RCGP, the Information Commissioner’s Office and with the Care Quality Commission to review and work with GP practices that have a high proportion of objections on a case-by-case basis.”

Ms Cooper took this as an admission that GPs were “being threatened and bullied into ensuring patients don’t choose to opt-out”.

Reacting on Twitter, NHS national director for patients and information Tim Kelsey ruled out fines for practices where large numbers of patients opt not to share data. He wrote: “Nobody is going to get fined if patients opt out.”

None of this offers a good reason for you to leave your medical records unprotected – in fact, it gives you more reasons to opt out than before, and might provide GPs with the excuse they need to retaliate.

Doctors have been pushed further and further by the Conservative-led government’s changes to the NHS. For example, they were told they would have a greater say in where the money went, as members of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), but that was not true – they don’t have the time to take part in such decisions so they have been handed over to firms that are often part of the private companies now offering services to the NHS (for a price).

Now they are being told they may face reprisals if they do not betray the principle of doctor-patient confidentiality.

But you can only push a person a certain distance before they push back.

How will NHS doctors in England respond?

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‘Flawed’ rail deal from a flawed government

Virgin trains will continue to run on the West Coat Main Line until the government sorts out the £40 million mess it has made of the franchise bidding process.

This morning we heard that the controversial decision to award the contract to run the West Coast Main Line to FirstGroup has gone south – by which I mean the franchise award was scrapped by the government after it found “significant technical flaws”.

Three civil servants have been suspended – typical of David Cameron’s government to sack the help.

Bids were made by four companies – Virgin, FirstGroup, Dutch train operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen, and a joint bid from French companies Keolis and SNCF. The flaws were found in the way the level of risk in the bids was evaluated.

This appears to be a problem across the Coalition government’s departments. Does anyone remember Andrew Lansley’s refusal to release to risk assessment on his changes to the NHS, which predicted severe problems with the delivery of healthcare?

The August announcement that FirstGroup would take over services on the West Coast Main Line, starting in December, sparked a legal challenge from current operator Virgin, which has run the franchise since 1997. The Department of Transport said it will no longer be contesting the judicial review launched by Virgin in the High Court, and Virgin will continue to operate the line while the issue is resolved.

I’m not fantastically enthusiastic about this because it seems like a squabble between rich boys over their toys. Let’s bear in mind that Virgin is having great fun peeling bloody strips from England’s NHS and claiming them for itself.

Most damning of all is the fact that the four companies must be reimbursed for the cost of their bids, taking £40 million from the public purse at a time of fiscal austerity. The government has wasted our money. Will the welfare budget take yet another hit to help George Osborne balance the books?

There is a bright side. The flawed franchise was awarded when Justine Greening was Transport Secretary. She was replaced last month by Patrick McLaughlin. I made fun of him at the time because he has a fear of flying, but at least he has the decency to admit when a mistake has been made.

What a shame his leaders can’t admit the same about their entire administration.