RMT Union wins key victory as Merseyrail scrap plans for driver only trains

After 16-strike days and 18 months of dispute, the union and company have agreed on a deal that sees Merseyrail scrap plans for driver only trains. There will be a second member of staff on every train, a detail that is critical to public safety according to RMT. However, the decisions may cause price rises.

The union has hailed it as “an important and‎ significant development”.

The new fleet of Merseyrail trains that were planned to go into operation in 2021 were designed to be operated by only drivers, without guards.

The RMT union held a series of strikes as its campaign to keep guards won wide public support. But the strikes were suspended while all sides went to conciliation service ACAS.

No-one currently employed as a guard will lose their jobs but a final deal has not been reached. The responsibilities of the second staff member on each train is yet to be agreed but there will be no further industrial action will talks continue.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:

“Today’s agreement in principle is an important and‎ significant development in respect of RMT’s long running campaign to retain a guaranteed second, safety-critical member of staff on Merseyrail trains.

RMT is committed to keeping guards on trains on all operators, a goal that has drawn support from significant Labour politicians

Carden, who is in the Shadow Cabinet stated:

“The guard on the train is a key element to their (the public’s) security, passenger safety and accessibility”

 

The Cairncross Review: Tories move to subsidise the Mainstream media

A public consultation is underway that may lead to the mainstream media receiving public subsidies. The Cairncross review is a new review to examine the sustainability of high-quality journalism and examine how it could be funded in changing times. This can be assumed to be the government’s response to the drop in print circulation of the mainstream in favour of a diverse range of online new media outlets.

The review has sparked controversy as is seen by many to be a government initiative to put in place whatever policies the corporate mainstream media need to stay as the dominant power in the British press.

The review panel consists of representatives from the Mainstream media with the independent media having no representation.

The panel consists of these figures:

Chair: Dame Francis Cairncross, former Economist, Guardian and Times writer

1 Jo Adetunji, deputy editor at The Conversation UK
2 Geraldine Allinson, chairman of regional publisher the KM Group
3 Azeem Azhar, senior adviser to the chief technology and innovation officer at Accenture and runs tech newsletter Exponential View
4 Polly Curtis, editor of HuffPost UK and formerly digital editor at the Guardian
5 Ashley Highfield, chief executive of Johnston Press
6 Douglas McCabe, tech and publishing media expert
7 Akshat Rathi, reporter at Quartz and formerly of The Economist and The Conversation
8 Matt Rogerson, head of public policy at Guardian publisher the Guardian Media Group
9 Mimi Turner, founder of brand strategy consultancy Mimi Turner Associates who has been “instrumental” in growing UK media brands including Lad Bible and Vice Media. Spent three years working for Richard Desmond as group director of communications at Express Newspapers.
10 Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association
11 Peter Wright, editor emeritus at Daily Mail publisher Associated Newspapers and former editor of the Mail on Sunday (1998-2012).

Despite many independent media outlets meeting the definition to be considered in the press industry, none have representation.

The review’s sordid intentions can be seen in the former Culture secretary Matt Hancock’s comments about the review, stating:

Although the internet has been an immense force for good, it has torn apart the established order

And according to Brian Cathcart from the International Forum for Responsible Media (Inforrm), the consultation is:

“little more than a device to help [the former Culture Secretary Matt Hancock] justify giving fresh public subsidies to his friends and supporters in the corporate press.”

Whilst the British corporate Media remains the least trusted in Europe the government defines their friends in the press as high-quality journalism.

Equally, unlike Corbyn’s media reform proposals, any public money that would go to the mainstream media would not come from the new tech monopolies like Facebook but instead from the public purse or the license fee pot. Public subsidies present a clear danger to an independent press and especially if handed out as selectively as the review panel was chosen.

I would urge supporters of a free, quality independent journalism to get involved. The review is still in its public consultation stage and to give your view on the future of journalism you can email Cairncrossreview@culture.gov.uk, or you can complete the questionnaires on the official government consultation documents by following this link.

Rebel MP Frank Field resigns Labour Whip

The Rebel MP Frank Field has resigned from the Labour Party whip. The veteran Brexiteer who voted with the Conservatives on an amendment to the Brexit trade bill. Many believed a defeat on this bill would have caused members of May’s own party to trigger a vote of no confidence in the PM.

Birkenhead CLP’s had passed a motion that moved to withdraw the Labour whip from Frank Field and bar him from all future selections but the MP has jumped before he could be pushed.

The Birkenhead MP blamed a “culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation” in local parties, referring to the local party’s effort to deselect him over his right wing and pro-Brexit views but also stated antisemitism as a reason for his resignation.

The efforts to deselect Field began when he voted with other Brexiteer Labour MPs to vote against an amendment that would see the UK stay in a customs union with the EU after Brexit if no deal with the EU was reached. Tory whips stated that if the government lost the vote senior Brexiteers would trigger a vote of no confidence in the government which may have resulted in a general election. With Labour 5 points clear in the polls this has been seen as a betrayal. It is also worth noting staying in a negotiated customs union with the EU is part of Labour’s policy on Brexit.

Field will remain as a member of the party but will sit as an independent Labour MP.

In a tweet, the Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon called for Field to call a by-election.

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PIP benefit appeal success rate reaches record high

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey is taking widespread criticism after it was revealed that 71% of people had their assessment for Personal Independence Payment, or PIP, overturned via tribunal between January and March of this year. That 71% equates to 14,805 people, the highest figures recorded since PIP was introduced in 2013. The Department for Work and Pensions has repeatedly defended itself by pointing out that the number of appeal victories represents just 4% of all PIP cases.

Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive of the disability charity Scope, has suggested that Conservative ministers to “get a grip” following the record number of successful benefit appeals from the disabled population.

Labour MP Maria Eagle also weighed in, condemning the latest figures as an “absolute scandal”.

To date, 3.4 million people have been assessed for PIP, with 1.8 million receiving up to £141 per week towards everyday costs. This may read as more than 50%, but it is estimated that over 100,000 people have been wrongly denied PIP, which in part explains the recurrent complaints regarding the quality of assessments from private firms Atos and Capita.

When questioned by MPs earlier this year, both Atos and Capita admitted they had never met the target of 97% of tests being “acceptable”.

They are certainly not helped by the latest statistics, which show that out of the 211,179 people who have attended a tribunal to argue their cases for PIP since its 2013 inception, 136,494 claimants have succeeded in their appeals and that 65%-win rate is only climbing.

PIP is not the only DWP pay-out facing scrutiny. Recent figures show that 70% of people were successful in their endeavour to claim Employment Support Allowance, a further sickness and disability benefit, between January and March this year. As with PIP, this was a record figure. The DWP attempted to defend the record of 288,046 successful appeals between April 2013 and March 2018 by insisting that the victory rate, 52% of some 553,934 claimants, owes itself to the appellants often presenting new evidence at tribunals.

TPN reported on one appeal victory back in May yet it would seem the courts have taken a wider stand against reckless DWP procedure. In this case, one of the tribunal members stated the DWP are not represented in the proceedings and that DWP assessment “were not taken seriously”.

Corbyn’s media reform policies can restore the BBC to its former glory

The UK media is the least trusted in Europe. That’s a fact, and whilst it may not be a direct measurement of the quality of our press it is an indicator of what the mainstream media has become. A corporate media controlled in the majority by 5 rich businessmen and the BBC.

Neither of those groups has been kind, or in fact fair, to Jeremy Corbyn.

This may not sound awful, you might think Corbyn deserves a rough trot, but in my view, the media outlets, especially the BBC, should not be political weapons but public services designed to inform not influence. This is a view shared by Corbyn and in his attempt .

Whilst Corbyn’s proposals on small media outlet funding will be welcomed by journalists all across the country, and his proposals on making the giant monopolies of the digital age like Facebook help fund journalism are fantastic, the proposed changes to the BBC will make all the headlines.

The corporation that was once produced gold standard journalism but now is put in a pile of media outlets designed to support the establishment.

The BBC’s move right began in Cameron’s term of office and was engineered using one of the features of the BBC that Corbyn wishes to end, it’s charter renewal.

Corbyn proposes to place the BBC on a permanent statutory footing to end government control through charter renewal, this was the charter renewal that was used by David Cameron to move the BBC right. The Tories before the 2015 General Election threatened to end the license fee if the BBC’s news coverage didn’t play ball. This isn’t a crackpot theory of a socialist, this is a well-documented fact. Nick Robinson is just one of the many BBC staff who spoke of comments made by Tory politicians threatening the BBC.

Despite this I have never joined the boycotts of the BBC, nor called for its abolition. There are 2 reasons for this. Firstly I would rather have a media with a fully functioning fair BBC, than without it. A media company that does not need to worry about corporate demands will always have an advantage over outlets that have shareholders to satisfy. Secondly, if the BBC were to die another outlet would take up that demand, and that outlet would most likely be corporate run and centre right.

Therefore to fix the BBC is the desired outcome for those who like to see the British Press returned to actually reporting the news. The only way to do that is to change who sits on its unitary board, the people who run the BBC. Corbyn proposes the election of some of the BBC board members by staff and licence fee payers.

That would see some elections of places to the BBC Board, for example of executive directors by staff and non-executive directors by licence fee payers.

This would function almost like a federal co-operative, giving both readers and journalists, not the government, control of our news. This mixture of stakeholders would allow the BBC to remain professional and balanced. I would resist a board elected completely by license fee payers due to a positive feedback effect that it would most likely create.

This is the solution to the BBC, and the combination of these proposals would allow no party to influence the BBC’s editorial stance and keep it independent, as it should be.

UK to take ‘moral high ground’ and allow EU migrants stay regardless of Brexit deal

EU nationals living in the UK are set to be given the right to remain even in the event of a no deal Brexit.

Cabinet papers leaked to The Daily Telegraph show ministers plan to take the “moral high ground” in a move which will bring much needed stability to the lives of almost 3.8 million EU nationals currently living in the UK.

Under the deal EU citizens in the UK would be able to continue using the NHS, and the welfare system regardless of whether British nationals living in the EU are granted similar rights. They will also still be able to bring spouses and close family members from the EU to live with them in the UK.

The leaked paper reads: “The Home Office plans to make an offer to existing EU residents that they can remain in the UK in a ‘no deal’ scenario, in effect unilaterally implementing the Citizens’ Rights agreement agreed with the EU in December 2017.

“The proposal is to make the offer irrespective of whether the EU reciprocates.”

The move is said to reflect concerns over potential labour shortages in key sectors such as health, social care and construction once Britain is outside the EU. Ministers and campaigners have repeatedly highlighted this issue.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “Skills shortages are skyrocketing, and it begs the question: who will build the new homes and infrastructure projects the Government is crying out for?

“Without skilled labour from the EU, the skills shortages we face would be considerably worse, and it is not in anyone’s best interest to pull the rug out from under the sector by introducing an inflexible and unresponsive immigration system.”

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab will travel to Brussels on Tuesday for further talks with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Raab has said while he believed a deal was still “by far the most likely outcome”, a responsible government needs to set out the steps it will take to mitigate the risks of a no deal.

The Truth Behind a No deal-WTO Brexit

No deal Brexit. 2 years ago, this proposition seemed almost unfathomable. Yet this alarming proposition is holding businesses, markets and traders across the continent on tenterhooks. As this consuming debate threatens to marshal off our borders and seal our divide from the continental mainland, analysis of the varied impact of a No deal Brexit provides an insight into who – both in the UK and EU – will be most affected under this scenario. As the impenetrable fortress along the Channel begins to harden, the plunge into isolation for Britain may in fact leave Europe breathing a sigh of relief.

Under a No deal Brexit with no free trade agreement, UK-EU trade would be conducted under WTO rules. The UK would be forced to trade with the Most Favoured Nation principle that underlines WTO policy – thus facing the full wrath of the EU Common External Tariff, which it applies to all countries it does not have a free trade deal with.

Boris Johnson described this scenario as “perfectly OK”. It isn’t.

Johnson claims that this apocalyptic tariff can be offset by parading the seven seas to source new free trade partners far and wide. Yet with the European Union accounting for 44.16% of total British exports, “no amount of trade deals with New Zealand” will make up for it, in the words of former Chancellor Osborne. Britain’s trade markets are overwhelmingly skewed towards its continental home, whilst Britain itself accounts for only 6.99% of EU exports – a clear indication of where the bargaining power lies in trade negotiations.

Liam Fox claims that “you couldn’t have a no deal without disadvantaging both UK and EU citizens” yet the numbers above argue to the contrary in terms of magnitude. The average tariff on British exports to the single market under WTO rules would be 4.1%, with 5.7% average on imports. Yet whilst this would decrease British exports by 9.8%, European trade would fall by an average of only 2.13% – with the continental powerhouse, Germany, falling by 2.54%. The enormity of this disparity is evidence that the EU has little to lose under this scenario – whilst European exports to the UK would decrease by a whopping 30%, Britain is such a minute player in the international world that its share of European trade is minimal.

However, the more complex hurdle the UK is facing will be regulatory. Tariffs vary wildly, with the highest taxes levied on food and clothes – neither of which are primary UK exports – whilst technological products including electricals and telecom face a tariff of only 1%. But if the UK credibly commits to its threat to ‘tear up the rulebook’, regulatory idiosyncrasies would only add to the costs of British exporters – and given the current productivity laggard status assigned to our firms, many small exporters will likely run into financial difficulty as interest rates by the Bank of England continue their upwards path.

Yet costs will be high for European nations too. Customs barriers, border checks and IT systems to regulate such trade will cost 600mn euros for the Dutch alone – excessive red tape that is a burden on SMEs who have never traded outside of the customs union. With 200,000 employed in trade with Britain and the prospect of purchasing 4.2mn export licenses, a No deal Brexit is an unattractive proposition for the Dutch – evidence testified by the Brexiteers who hark that European business will drive its government into softer negotiations.

But the stakes in a soft Brexit are higher. A British deal whereby borders are closed to migrants but open to trade would create a near-certain European implosion; the far right from Hungary to Italy would follow in Britain’s wake, and the single market would collapse. Evidently, such a situation would be worse for the Dutch; the destruction of the eurozone, continental trade and ensuing chaos trump the dismay of losing some trade with the UK – despite what the Little Englanders may want to believe. Europe would once more return to the fractured state it existed in prior to the ECSC in 1952; and given the centuries of conflict that preceded this, such a proposition would send fear throughout the continent. British trade is thus a small price to pay in a much more dangerous game.

Brexit is not only a deal in which the UK must hit the sweet spot. The EU too must get this deal right. By balancing business with larger geopolitical interests, a WTO scenario is easily bearable for those at the nexus of eurocentrism – notably France, Germany and the Netherlands, who happen to be amongst the UK’s largest trade partners within the bloc. Britain must open its eyes to this reality; whilst the EU may breathe a sigh of relief at this outcome, Britain would plunge into isolation. In this struggle for supremacy by the British against the EU27, Europe will have won.

Hodge’s comparison of her disciplinary to the Holocaust does her case no favours

Being one of the most vocal Anti-Corbyn critics, you’d expect Dame Margaret Hodge to launch attack after attack against him. But her latest goes too far. In a comment to Sky News, the woman renowned for ‘fighting the BNP off in Barking’ has said that during her disciplinary proceedings for her despicable attack on Jeremy Corbyn within the House of Commons, she “felt the same fear her father would have felt when he was fleeing Nazi Germany”. Yes, you heard that right.

With it becoming clearer and clearer that the agenda against Corbyn is mostly a smear orchestrated by the right-wing media and, indeed, members of his own party, it’s perhaps surprising to see such an appalling comment being made by one of the key opposers. As Hodge et al’s crusade against Corbyn looks to gather pace, her latest outburst will only serve to damage her cause.

To compare a deserved disciplinary to one of the most brutal and disgusting acts of genocide is nothing short of disgraceful. In fact, as many have pointed out, its borderline Anti-Semitic in itself. If I was Jewish, I’d consider that to be nothing short of a mockery of a horrific and dark event. Naturally, as I am not Jewish, I don’t know exactly how the community feels, and I wouldn’t presume to do so. But Hodge should hang her head in shame.

Under-fire Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn himself hit back almost instantaneously, saying that Hodge’s comparison of Labour’s disciplinary proceedings to the Holocaust is “extreme and disconnected from reality”. And you know what, that isn’t even far enough. In the words of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hodge’s comments deserve “unequivocal condemnation”.

Of course, only Corbyn’s supporters will condemn it. It’s unlikely that the comments will even receive much publicity from the Mainstream Media because it only serves to weaken their Anti-Corbyn stance.

The other Labour rebels now face a tough choice, to back Hodge in her attack on Corbyn or call her comment out as being past the line. In what has become one of the biggest Labour Civil Wars since the Bevanites vs Gaitskellites, the question of who will come out on top is one that nobody can answer. Because there can be no doubt that with this setback for the right wingers will come to a brand new smear and Corbyn must be ready for it.

With Umunna calling the party “Institutionally racist” in a direct attack aimed not just at the leadership, but at the membership as well, and Hodge comparing what she has deemed as a “witch-hunt” by the leadership against her, the membership is becoming impatient. To quote Corbyn’s favourite poem ‘The Masque of Anarchy’, the members must “Rise, like lions after slumber, In unvanquishable number” to combat the smears. As the possibility of a Corbyn government grows ever closer, they will only become more extreme.

Action must be taken, and the party now surely have adequate reason to deselect Hodge. She was rightfully the subject of a disciplinary. To compare it to Nazi Germany is nothing short of utterly disgraceful. And as she repeatedly says, she won’t apologise for her actions. As an elected MP, higher standards are expected. And she doesn’t reach anywhere near the standards expected. I’m normally opposed to deselected those who I disagree with and I don’t subscribe to what Hodge deems as being the main cause of the issue ‘The Cult of Corbyn’ but Labour’s chances of being elected take a huge hit every time she and the other rebels open their mouths. Now is the time for them to lose their jobs because as I repeatedly say, we wouldn’t get away with the stuff these MP’s do in our jobs, so why should they?

Labour complains to regulator over misleading reporting on wreath laying

Labour have complained to the press regulator IPSO about the coverage by several British Newspapers of Corbyn’s visit to a Memorial service to those killed in Tunisia by an Israeli strike in 1985. It is unclear whether Labour will take other legal action against misleading reports.

In its complaint, the party said the Sun, the Times, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Express and Metro had misrepresented the story.

The press regulator has acknowledged the complaint and stated it will take the case further. It is extremely unusual for a senior politician to go to the press regulator over misleading and negative coverage.

The Mail ran the headline stating Corbyn had laid a wreath at the graves of the Munich Terrorists, despite the fact their graves are in Libya over 400km away.

The cemetery contains the graves of senior Palestinian Liberation Organisation individuals Salah Khalaf and Atef Besiso who Israel allege had links with Black September, which the PLO deny, but Labour state Corbyn did not take part in a ceremony for these individuals. These individuals were not part of the 71 killed by Israel in the 1985 strike on Tunisia.

It is also unclear whether Corbyn fill take legal action against Israeli Prime Minister who stated that Corbyn had laid “a wreath…. on the graves of the terrorist who perpetrated the Munich massacre”. This could be considered libellous.

The newspapers could offer to publish corrections to end the dispute.

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DWP forced to admit more than 111,000 claimant deaths

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to release updated Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) mortality statistics following a freedom of information request. The request has revealed that 111,450 ESA claims were closed following the death of claimants between March 2014 to February 2017. The figures relate to those of working age, between 16-64. Just under 10,000 were in the assessment phase when passing away.

The Freedom of information request came from disability campaigner Gail Ward.

The information also showed that more than 8,140 Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disability Allowance claimants died in the 3 year period.

The DWP estimate that there were around 4 million unique working-age claimants of these benefits between March 2014 and February 2017. Meaning 3% of claimants died.

The DWP defended themselves by stating “no causal effect between the benefit and the number of people who died should be assumed from these figures”. The department “does not hold information on the reason for death”

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