The local election results show no political vision is emerging to capture hearts and minds – Labour is simply waiting for the other parties to become even less appealing, writes ANDREW MURRAY
WEAK and boring. Correct — it’s Keir Starmer we’re discussing.
Thus the choices of a representative cross-section of voters asked by a polling company to sum up the Labour leader in a word.
Untrustworthy leaps out of the word cloud too.
It can all be rendered in a number as well. The one that counts is 35. That is the percentage of the electorate intending to vote Labour at the next general election, according to extrapolations from the local election results.
It is an astonishing figure. It is just 7 per cent ahead of the Tories, dramatically less than the score recorded in various opinion polls over the last year, which gave Labour leads of up to 30 per cent.
It is also, note carefully, just 3 per cent up on Labour’s score in the 2019 election, and 5 per cent less than a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour secured in 2017.
On these projections, there will be no Labour landslide at the next election, and perhaps not even an overall majority in the House of Commons.
All this after 13 years of austerity, authoritarianism, a cruelly bungled pandemic, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, and the dystopian prospect of “national conservatism” a la Braverman next on the menu.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has organised an emergency protest on Monday 22nd May for 6.00pm outside Parliament Square, as it fights to protect the right to strike which is under attack from the Tory government.
Mick Lynch from the RMT, Matt Wrack from the FBU and Kevin Courtney will be speaking at the rally, with Unison, USDAW and the PCS union all showing their support.
The government’s strikes bill, which will empower employers to sue unions and sack staff in crucial sectors if minimum service levels aren’t maintained, has been slammed as an attack on the fundamental right to strike and as a draconian piece of legislation. The Bill essentially means that when workers lawfully vote to strike in health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning, they could be forced to attend work – and sacked if they don’t comply.
The TUC said in a press statement: “We can’t afford to lose the right to strike. But multi-millionaire Tory politicians are attacking our right to strike for better pay and fair treatment at work.
Former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has once more refused to apologise for his disastrous mini-budget which caused financial turmoil and which eventually led to him being sacked and Liz Truss being forced out of office.
Kwarteng, whose mini-budget resulted in chaos on the financial markets, the pound hitting an all-time low against the dollar and mortgage rates soaring, said he was ‘not in the business of forgiveness’.
“I’m not going to apologise,” he told Channel 4 News.
Former Tory MP and now Reform UK party member Ann Widdecombe has been widely condemned for her ‘out of touch’ and appalling comments on families struggling to make ends meet during the cost of living crisis.
Widdecombe was asked on BBC 2’s Politics Live programme about the cost of living crisis and what advice she would give to viewers who could not even afford the basics.
Jo Coburn asked the former Tory MP: “What do you say to those viewers who literally can’t afford to pay even for some of the basics – if they’ve gone up the way that cheese sandwich has, with all its ingredients?”
“Well, then you don’t do the cheese sandwich,” Widdecombe replied.
Her comments were immediately condemned by fellow panellist Rachel Cunliffe who said: “We’re talking about absolute basics and staples. We’re talking about own-brand pasta, we’re talking about bread, we’re talking about families who can’t afford to feed their children.
‘The First Past the Post system hands more power to the establishment than MPs or people.’
The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has set out the reasons for why the Labour Party should back a change to the voting system in favour of proportional representation (PR), despite party leader Keir Starmer saying that voting reform will not be a priority should Labour win power.
Although the Labour Party conference last year overwhelmingly backed a motion calling on the party to embrace a proportional electoral system, the leadership has made clear that it would not do as the motion says.
Since then, at the Progressive Britain conference last week, Starmer made clear that voting reform would not be among the priorities should Labour win power.
Burnham however has urged the party to adopt PR, saying that the current first-past-the-post voting system hands more power to the establishment than MPs or people and changing the system to proportional representation would mean “every vote would matter”.
Carla Denyer claims Greens are the strongest party on democratic reform
The Green Party has slammed the Tories for dragging democracy in the UK in a dangerous direction.
Speaking at an event last night, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, Carla Denyer, laid out how the Tory’s have assaulted our democracy – and how the Greens would solve it.
Denyer discussed how to restore public faith in politics and argued that the Greens were the strongest party on democratic reform.
The Greens have said they would apply proportional representation for all elections to all levels of government, along with bringing the voting age down to 16.
They would introduce devolution, mirroring systems in Europe by giving more power to local and regional government and Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliament. They would also introduce an elected upper house to replace hereditary power in the House of Lord and set up a Citizen’s Convention.
Introducing a fairer system of state funding for political parties, which would hope to eliminate the dependence of large private donations and strengthen transparency on political lobbying and donations. One in four people believe that party donors have the most influence on government decisions, according to Unlock Democracy.
Denyer also accused the media of preventing democratic conversations through its bias towards certain political parties.
Financial, ideological and senior staff ties are still channelling the interests of opaquely funded think tanks into the heart of government.
The Conservative Party has received in excess of £600,000 since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister from four board members at leading Tufton Street ‘think tanks’, a new DeSmog analysis shows.
The data also shows that free market groups based in Tufton Street, Westminster, have retained significant influence in Sunak’s administration. More than half a dozen Tufton Street alumni currently serve as special advisers to the government, while seven ministers have appeared at events hosted by Tufton Street groups since Sunak became prime minister in October.
These groups have often acted as a blocker to climate action. All are known for their anti-big-state and pro-fracking views, while their anti-green stances range from opposition to state-led climate intervention to active climate science denial. Previous reports indicate that Tufton Street groups have received substantial funds from organisations that support climate science denial in the past decade, with some donations provided directly by fossil fuel firms.
The joint-largest donation to the Conservatives during this period was made by Graham Edwards, a board member at the influential Centre for Policy Studies (CPS). He gave £500,000 in December 2022 – the same month that he was appointed as Tory treasurer, responsible for party fundraising.
Other CPS board members – Lord Michael Spencer and Lord Anthony Bamford – have also donated £100,000 and £10,000 to the party respectively since Sunak became prime minister. Lord Spencer donated via his family holding company, IPGL, while Lord Bamford’s donation is linked to his construction conglomerate, JCB.
As revealed by DeSmog this week, a firm owned by a director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) – one of the UK’s principal climate science denial groups – also donated £20,000 in March to House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt and Conservative MP Liam Fox.
The CPS, which is based out of 57 Tufton Street, is a leading member of the network. This alliance of free market think tanks and lobby groups catapulted into public consciousness last autumn for its outsized influence over former Prime Minister Liz Truss and ex-Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, whose ‘mini budget’ on 23 September 2022 caused market panic and a dramatic fall in the value of the pound.
The funding of Tufton Street groups is notoriously opaque. Every single one of its members was given the lowest transparency rating – E – by openDemocracy’s ‘Who Funds You?’ 2022 report into think tanks. Tufton Street groups have earned £6 million collectively in their latest accounting periods.
“It’s time to kick toxic fossil fuel interests out of politics once and for all,” Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, told DeSmog. “This government’s murky ties to Tufton Street have barely diminished since Liz Truss’s economy-wrecking mini budget fiasco. When we face a rapidly closing window of opportunity to tackle the climate emergency, there are still countless climate-denying and delaying influences right at the heart of government.”
Minister had secret meeting with oil-backed think tank that warned UK government not to listen to climate scientists
Trade secretary Kemi Badenoch met secretly with a US think tank that has taken millions of dollars from climate denial groups and claimed it would be “irresponsible” for the UK to follow climate science, openDemocracy can reveal.
Badenoch met representatives of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which campaigners say has a long track record of “distorting” climate science, for dinner in November while on an official visit to the US.
Scant details of the meeting were published by Badenoch’s department last week, as the minister’s Indo-Pacific trade deal faced criticism for “making a mockery” of UK pledges to tackle deforestation.
The AEI, which also met with Liz Truss in 2018 when she was trade secretary, has sown doubt over climate change science, describing a landmark 2021 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “alarmist” and “deeply dubious”.
The IPCC report was produced by the world’s leading climate scientists and concluded that the world was approaching “irreversible” levels of global heating, with catastrophic impacts rapidly becoming inevitable.
But Benjamin Zycher and Peter J Wallison, senior fellows at the AEI, played down its findings by claiming that “we don’t understand all the elements in the complex climate system – the effects of clouds alone are understood poorly”.
The authors, neither of whom have backgrounds in science, added that it would be “beyond irresponsible” for governments to adopt policies on the basis of the report.
The think tank also separately criticised COP 26, the annual UN climate conference hosted by the UK in 2021, with one of its authors claiming that delegates spread a “false narrative” that urgent action is required to tackle climate change.
Researchers have found that AEI has received more than $330m in donations from climate denial groups since 2008, including $4.8m from US oil giant ExxonMobil.
A Department for Business and Trade spokesperson told openDemocracy that Badenoch meets “all sorts of stakeholders that have different views – it’s no different to what it’s like in the UK”.
“There are various think tanks in Westminster that have sceptical views about climate change and ministers meet these people all the time,” they added.
The department has refused a Freedom of Information request by openDemocracy for minutes of the meeting with the AEI on grounds that there were “closed discussions under the Chatham House rule” – meaning that their contents are secret.
Badenoch also gave a speech at another US think tank, the Cato Institute, during her official visit in November. The institute was founded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, one of the top funders of climate denial in the US. Cato is “focused on disputing the science behind global warming and questioning the rationale for taking action”, according to Greenpeace US.
The minister, who was beaten by Liz Truss in the first of last year’s Conservative leadership elections, gave a speech promoting free trade at the institute’s headquarters in Washington DC in which she hinted that some policies to tackle climate change could “impoverish” the UK.
“We all know that climate change is a challenge for us all, wherever we live in the world. But we know that we can and should solve it by using free trade and investment to accelerate the technological progress that will protect the planet,” she claimed.
“And something that not enough politicians say: we must do this, we must protect the planet in a way that does not impoverish the UK, the US or, let’s be honest, any other country,” she said.
During her unsuccessful campaign for the Tory leadership, Badenoch came out against the UK’s net zero target, describing the policy as “unilateral economic disarmament”. She told the Telegraph she “believe[s] in climate change” but said “there is a better way of going about these things”.
The American Enterprise Institute has been approached for comment.
A Department for Business and Trade spokesperson said: “Claiming that speaking to a particular think tank implies adopting every one of their policy positions is treating the public like fools. The Secretary of State visited Washington DC to emphasise the importance of trade as a force for security and prosperity, including green trade and investment, and to promote the UK’s high-talent, business-friendly environment and highly innovative economy.”
This is the second report this month to call for a ban on flaring in the next two years. A cross-party report by the House of Commons environmental audit committee made the same recommendation on 5 January.
Mr Skidmore was commissioned by the former prime minister, Liz Truss, to review UK proposals to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Last year, the government accepted a ruling by the High Court that its net zero strategy was unlawful. The landmark judgement agreed with arguments by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project that the strategy failed to show how the UK’s legally-binding carbon budgets would be met.
The review ran to 340 pages and had 129 recommendations.
It said flaring was responsible for 22% of carbon emissions on oil and gas fields. About 70% of oil and gas field emissions were from powering equipment on platforms, it said.
The offshore industry published a Methane Action Plan in 2021 to reduce emissions and flaring. This committed the industry to a 50% methane emission reduction by 2030, compared with 2018 levels. Shell has committed to zero routine flaring by 2025.