The Scottish Series: The SNP is an independence party, and on this it should focus

If you regularly watch Prime Ministers Questions you’ll know that the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has become a regular fixture of proceedings. He has become as much the voice of the party as Nicola Sturgeon as he is regularly heard asking questions to the Prime Minister. Blackford has drawn support (or at least sympathy) from many on the opposition benches, being unwavering in his criticism of consecutive Conservative Governments. As a friend of mine recently suggested to me though, he has become slightly “repetitive.”

The SNP’s opposition has begun to hit the same notes, ‘Scotland voted Remain and therefore Brexit is against what we were promised in the 2014 referendum, this gives us the right to another independence referendum,’ to summarise. Of course, this is an essential argument and one that needs to be made. The main goal of the SNP is to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom and Scotland having a distinctly different result to England and Wales does renew calls for an independence referendum, even after one was lost not so long ago. However, the SNP has taken this a step further and have begun to look like a distinctly pro-EU party, consistently voting with Remainer MPs and supporting the pro-EU Lib Dems in calls for an early election before Labour supported the motion.

The party edging on this ‘Remainer’ stance may be as a contrast to the Conservative Government, who represents the British system that the SNP seeks to escape from, or as a clearer cut option than Labour, whose stance hasn’t been fully understood by many in the public. This shift from arguing for Scotland’s right to self-determination due to a change in circumstances since 2014, towards becoming viewed as a Remain party, may dampen the SNP’s high election hopes.

SNP supporters aren’t inherently pro-EU, a survey by the National Centre for Social Research estimated that as high as 36% of SNP voters supported Leave in 2014. Ex-SNP leader, Gordon Wilson, gives similar numbers of between 30% to 34%. These numbers don’t even account for pro-independence Scots who voted Remain tactically in the Brexit referendum in the hope of generating the point of difference from England, which was a very real factor in how many Scots voted. Many Scots want out of both unions in order to be ‘fully’ independent.

Another possible thorn in the side of the Scottish National Party is Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader who took her seat from the SNP in 2017. The flagship policy of Swinson’s is to stop Brexit completely, any Scottish voter who is decidedly pro-EU could easily be turned away from the murky waters of the SNP and Labour into the clear waters of the Liberal Democrats.

The SNP have said they will be fighting hard to take Swinson’s seat back from her, to do this they will have to offer something completely different to her and not just be the other Remain option.

20,000 people attended a pro-independence rally in Glasgow last weekend, including SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. This may have been the change of direction needed for the party, as pro-EU rhetoric was toned down and the perceived importance of Scottish independence was back at the forefront. Sturgeon stated that independence was ‘within touching distance’ and that it was time to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands and not Boris Johnson’s.

Instead of opposing Brexit completely, the SNP must return focus on the uncertainty surrounding it and the opportunity Scotland has to go a different direction. Scottish voters were promised in 2014 that remaining in the United Kingdom was the safer and more stable option, this was untrue. If this is the direction that the SNP take throughout the campaign they will do as well as predicted, possibly reaching the heights of 2015. However, there is a real chance that Blackford’s broken record at Westminster and the perception of being pro-EU may have turned off much of the electorate from the party, which could leave many Scottish separatists very disappointed when they wake up on Friday the 13th of December.

Remain/Leave was an oversimplification, don’t make the same mistakes with Churchill

The facts of history have become more available to the public than ever before. The hard work of many historians coupled with developments in the mass media mean there are huge amounts of information about many historical figures easily accessible to the mainstream. This is a good thing; it allows historical facts to be known by the majority of people rather than just history academics. However it has also called into question the legacies of individuals whose actions are responsible for how the world looks today.

Despite being voted the Greatest Briton in 2002 and British People’s most respected leader in 2018, Sir Winston Churchill is a man that divides opinion. His leadership as Prime Minister during the most challenging periods of World War Two has cemented his name in the history of Britain, yet his personal and political beliefs have soured his name amongst many in the United Kingdom. Green MSP Ross Greer recently sparked a debate around Churchill’s legacy in a tweet which labelled the former Prime Minister ‘a white supremacist’ and a ‘mass murderer’. There have also been calls for his statue to be removed from Parliament Square because of decisions he took whilst in his position of power.

It is true that Churchill held beliefs that would disgust any reasonable person today. He has been described at best as an extreme patriot, at worst a white supremacist, believing Britain and British people were at the top of the food chain. This legitimised his support for empire and his reluctance to see Ireland and India become independent from the British empire.

Churchill also supported the use of poisonous gasses against what he described as “uncivilised tribes”. His action (or lack thereof) when it came to the 1943 famine in West Bengal further supports the view that he was an inherent racist. He decided not to send supplies of grain to the region which would have massively alleviated the suffering. 3 million people died as a result of the famine.

Some explanation of these actions has been given by historians. Warren Dockter of Cambridge University says his support of poisonous gas has been misinterpreted, arguing the weapons he supported would have been non-lethal and actually lowered the potential loss of life. A 1919 memo from Churchill states “Gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effect on most of those affected.” Richard Toye also suggests the failure in West Bengal was a result of poor prioritisation rather than direct racism. Historian Arthur Hermann says that once Churchill and his cabinet realised the true extent of the famine they acted to alleviate it. However as Toye also states, although Churchill had other distractions due to the context of the war, the small amount of effort it would have taken to act on the famine means there is no excuse for his poor handling of the situation.

Churchill’s record on strike action also brings with it major criticism. His role in the 1911 Tonypandy riots was a stain on his political career and something he was never allowed to forget. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell recently named Churchill a ‘villain’ in the case of Tonypandy. When miners in South Wales took strike action, Churchill as home secretary sent troops to the towns affected. Claims have been made that strikers were fired upon at his command, although this has been contested by historians. Professor Louise Miskell of Swansea University has said his role in the situation has been ‘oversimplified’, and much of the criticism surrounding his involvement is due to myth. One man died in the riots.

Again under his watch as home secretary, two people were killed when troops were deployed in Liverpool due to strike action. As many as 100,000 troops were deployed in Glasgow after similar civil unrest in 1919. Historians such as John Charmley posit that had Churchill not deployed troops the outcome could have been much worse and more people could have died.

The deployment of the infamous ‘Black and Tans’ in Ireland show again his rush to violent action. The group, which was Churchill’s brainchild, are well known for extreme violence and acts of revenge against the IRA, including burning down towns in Ireland and shooting civilians. The number of people killed and injured by the Black and Tans is hard to estimate but many of their actions have been described as war crimes. They were under Churchill’s command as Secretary of State for War and Air during the Irish War of Independence.

His quick turn to violent action is a source of criticism in the case of strikers and Ireland, yet it could also be seen as the character trait that is responsible for his success as a war-time Prime Minister. His decisiveness made him a good leader during the most pressing times of World War Two. Despite total disagreement with communism he immediately pledged support to the Soviet Union when Hitler attacked, saying “The Russian danger… is our danger.” Some historians have also named him the principle architect behind the Grand Alliance between Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union. An alliance plagued by ideological contradictions but one that needed to be formed in order to defeat the Axis powers.

It has been argued that giving people a simple Remain/Leave vote on the complex issue of European Union membership is naive and oversimplifies a complicated situation. I would argue it is equally naive to have a Good/Bad referendum on the legacy and character of complex people in world history. We must continue to have open debate about history, not so one side can win the ideological argument but so that all sides can learn the historical one. This is what the current debate about Churchill is getting totally wrong.

Robbie Lennie is a TPN columnist and is currently studying History and Politics at Northumbria University.

We can’t handle snow, how do we expect the UK to weather a No Deal Brexit?

Despite the House of Commons voting to show their disapproval of Britain exiting the European Union without a deal, the likelihood of a no deal Brexit increases every day as we edge closer to the 29th of March. For some this is the ideal result, a clean break from Europe that will allow the UK to go it alone and carve a new future without the binds of the EU. Adversely, experts warn of serious consequences, particularly when it comes to trade and the UK border.

The economic costs alone are terrifying. Trade with the EU amounts to 44% of all UK exports and 53% of all UK imports. Adding tariffs to this trade would hurt the UK economy as imported goods would become more expensive while British goods would be less competitive in EU markets. British exporters to the EU would be hit by tariffs of around £6bn. The overall cost would be £900 million worse off in 2019 alone over 15 years the UK economy is expected to be 9.3% smaller.

Numerous leaders from the European Union have made clear that there will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement that was rejected by the House of Commons earlier this month. Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Junker, Emmanuel Macron and Leo Varadkar have all stood firm on the EU’s position, making no deal a real possibility and resulting in a hard border between the UK and EU.

Much of the industry that would come under the most pressure in a no deal scenario have voiced major concern at this. Doug Bannister, CEO of the Dover Harbour Board, says that a hard border between the UK and the EU would cause unparalleled disruption.

Currently, trucks from the EU pass through the port of Dover without being stopped and checked, allowing for a mostly free-flowing movement of traffic. Forcing a border between the UK and the EU will require every truck to be stopped, a process the port can’t currently support due to lack of manpower and space to filter trucks. The lorry car parks that have also been mentioned are also impossible, there is no land to build these car parks and the ‘just in time’ supply chain that UK supermarkets rely on for fresh goods would be disrupted by deliveries being delayed and produce turning rotten.

Bannister has said planning for the situation has been incredibly difficult, as he has had no guidance from the UK Government on what types of checks will be required if a hard border is the ultimate outcome.

Some have suggested goods be redirected to other ports around the UK to alleviate the pressure on Dover, the same concern around the lack of space still arises. The second busiest port in the UK, Holyhead, conducted tests by directing lorries to an abandoned airfield near the port to control traffic, the test was a failure and determined to be an unrealistic solution to the increased pressure a hard border would bring.

Another suggested solution is digitally checking goods. The Netherlands are leading the way in this possibility, working on ‘Green Lanes’ that would allow fresh produce from the Netherlands to pass into the UK easily by having the goods checked digitally before the truck even sets off for Dover. Tomatoes and cucumbers are a huge part of trade between the two countries, so much so that it has been said the fields of the Netherlands have become a backyard for Britain to receive fruits and vegetables such as these. A hard border threatens the future of this trade.

Dover have also been assessing this digital solution, however along with exporters in the Netherlands, Doug Bannister confirmed there is simply not enough time to test and implement this technology before the date the UK are set the EU on the 29th of March.

As snow falls around Britain this week we are reminded of how the UK just managed to make it through the ‘Beast From the East’ this time last year. Short supply, poor quality product and major disruption at our ports due to a hard border mean the UK would not be able to weather the storm that is a no deal Brexit.

Georgism offers a possible alternative to solve the problems caused by Globalisation

Globalisation is fast becoming an unpopular process amongst the masses. Many ideological groups oppose it as one of the functions of neo-liberalism which produces unfair and unequal economic circumstances whilst showing a disregard for the environment. Whilst many political and economic ideologies have made their thoughts clear on the issue, Georgism may be a lesser known concept that could resolve the damage of Globalisation.

Georgism is an economic ideology with the general premise that states individuals own the wealth they create in its entirety whilst land and its economic value is publicly owned, revenue made from tax on this land then goes back to the people in the form of public investment or universal basic income. Followers of the ideology, therefore, believe the government should attain funds from a Land Value Tax (LVT), rather than unfair and inefficient levies such as Income Tax and VAT.

The claimed benefits of this system include the eradication of monopolies, increased wages that reflect the true cost of labour and the elimination of tax fraud and evasion which costs the economy billions of pounds per year. These issues have all been regularly linked with globalisation since the 20th century.

The definition of ‘land’ in this case is the nature and natural resources of a location. The amount of tax collected is determined by proximity to resources, climate and the level of commerce that takes place in relation to the land. It is important to note that the level of commerce is not referring to the number of goods produced from the land, Georgism does not support taxing capital goods and labour.

Fred Foldvary explains it best with the following examples,

“If a shop at the edge of a city sells 100 shoes per day, and a similar shop in the centre of the city sells 200 shoes per day, with the same amount of labour and capital goods, the land rent will be greater at the centre due to the economies of density,”

By ‘rent’ Foldvary is referring to the profitability of an area. He continues to say,

“Land in which 1,000 lb of grapes can be grown has a higher rent than land in which 500 hundred pounds can be grown, with the same application of labour and capital goods.”

Not only would this reduce the economic inefficiency of our current use of land and the tax system, but it would also have incredibly positive implications for the environment. Pollution would reduce the value of land and its resources and therefore would be financially damaging to society. Georgists propose taxing polluters, as pollution is categorised as an excess cost in the production of goods. The wealth produced from a tax on pollution would go back into public funds and be used to restore the damages caused by the polluters.

Supporters of LVT claim the tax encourages the appropriate use of land, as public revenue requires the efficient and sustainable development of a location. This would reduce deforestation as well as the urban sprawl that plagues most modern cities. This has incredibly damaging effects on the environment by destroying habitats unnecessarily and increasing air pollution due to increased vehicle use.

Of course, the model is not without its critics. If the system was to be implemented there is no answer to how current owners of private land would be compensated for the loss of their property. Critics say landowners would need to be involved in the process of system transition in order to not become victims of it. Convincing landowners to give up their land without decent compensation would be a negotiation process that would make the Brexit talks look easy.

In his reply to criticism of Georgism, Fred Foldvary challenges claims that Georgist principles have never been implemented in full. He uses the example of former German colony Kiaochow in China, a land tax from 1898 to 1914 allowed a massive increase in government revenue and allowed the capital, Tsingtao, to develop from a fishing village into a successful city. Foldvary also refutes claims that high taxes on land have been harmful where implemented, he says to the contrary countries such as Denmark and Japan have utilised a land tax to incredible economic growth.

This is a simple introduction to a complex economic philosophy. If you are interested in the concept I highly recommend reading the works of the Georgism’s namesake, Henry George, as well as Fred Foldvary who provides useful insights into the model. This relatively unknown ideology could be the answer to many of the issues of our modern world.

Amazon pays tax of £63.4 Million on sales of £8.77 Billion and we wonder why the High Street is crumbling

Being successful in business is all about cutting your costs and increasing profits. Luckily if you’re Amazon, getting away with not paying what should into the economy helps you achieve these goals with ease.

It seems every year there are questions and criticism surrounding the morality of big businesses ability to evade paying tax, as well as the other unsavoury ways they avoid contributing to the economy of the countries in which they work. The latest culprit is e-commerce behemoth Amazon. It has recently been disclosed that they only paid £63.4 million in business rates (charges for property used for non-domestic purposes) in 2018, while their sales in the UK netted £8.77 billion that same year.

In comparison, high street retailer Next paid £100m in business rates on sales of £4bn. This amounts to around 2.5% of Next sales, whilst in the case of Amazon their business rate payments are less than 1% of their overall sales in the UK. For Debenhams, who had a tough financial year, 3.5% of their sales went towards business rates, as they paid £80m on a comparably low £2.3bn for the year.

An official blog post by Amazon stated “online sales are still less than a fifth of total sales in the UK and Amazon is a small percentage of that – perhaps a lot less than people realise.”

Statistics from 2017 show Amazon held a third of all online spending in the UK, a figure which will likely be even greater for 2018. This is a huge market share from a company who are downplaying their success in order to explain away their low tax contributions.

These figures are increasingly important as avoidance of these payments by companies such as Amazon clearly has a drastic effect on our high street shops. This past Christmas was the worst for Britain’s high street since the 2008 financial crash. Helen Hayes MP voiced concern that businesses in her constituency are struggling more and more every year and that “They cite business rates as the single biggest contributory factor, many of them, to the particular pressures that they have faced over the past year.”

Jake Berry, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth, has said the Government are planning to introduce a digital tax in order to “level the playing field” between online and high street retailers. However, he confirmed the treasury were responsible for adjusting business rates.

The disappearance of the high street may be an inevitability as the ease of online shopping pushes more people to turn to their electronic devices for purchases rather than their local shops. Whilst the high street still exists, however, the Government have a responsibility to ensure online retailers are paying their way the same as their brick and mortar counterparts.

Caroline Lucas has called for a Meat Tax as pressure on the agricultural industry mounts.

Through a tax on meat we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make huge strides in combating climate change, says Caroline Lucas MP. Caroline Lucas, the lone representative of the Green Party in the House of Commons, is set to speak at the Oxford Farming Conference on Friday.

To a crowd that will undoubtedly be against her, she will make the case that eating less meat is better for the environment and proposes that putting a levy on meat will influence people to cut down on their consumption.

She says better manure management and careful selection of feed can reduce the carbon footprint of farms, however these measures don’t go far enough and a tax on meat would be essential for the farming industry to reduce it’s emissions. Her goal is to make the farming sector carbon neutral.

“If the world’s diet doesn’t change, we simply can’t avoid the worst effects of climate change,” says Lucas.

Livestock rearing is currently responsible for 15% of greenhouse gases. According to a report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and non-profit organisation GRAIN, the meat and dairy industry is set to surpass the oil industry as the world’s biggest polluters. The largest corporations in the industry are seeking trade agreements that will increase exports and therefore further increase the emissions of the industry.

Criticism of Caroline Lucas’ viewpoint of course came from many within the industry. Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, says a meat tax would effect all types of production and consumption, including those which do work to reduce their impact on environment.

Stocker says:

The right meat, consumed sensibly, should be incentivised and not taxed.

 

Chief Executive of National Craft Butchers, Roger Kelsey, says the tax would disproportionately impact low earners and deprive them of an important part of their diet.

Caroline Lucas is not isolated in her position however. An Oxford University study from November also put forward the idea of a meat tax. The study claimed that the tax could prevent 6000 deaths per year and save the UK economy £700 million.

The debate coincides with findings announced this week from the US News and World Report. Their panel that includes nutritionists, heart health experts and weight lost experts have found a ‘flexitarian’ diet, essentially just eating a mostly plant-based diet with the occasional inclusion of meat, ranks as the 3rd best diet for general health and weight loss. An estimated 22 million Brits are said to follow this diet.

These scientific findings that show health benefits to reducing meat consumption may convince some to turn to ‘flexitarianism’, a meat tax such as that proposed by Green MP Caroline Lucas and Oxford University may push even more to this type of diet and vastly reduce the negative impact the farming industry can have on the environment.

It’s the immigrants, stupid: Rebuked. Why Hilary Clinton is wrong.

It’s the immigrants, stupid. The unofficial campaign slogan that can be attributed to recent election results in the UK, US, Hungary, France… the list (unfortunately) goes on. With Theresa May’s recent comments hinting towards how the UK’s immigration policy will look post-Brexit, we must take a serious look at how immigrants are being presented throughout the West and how none of it is based on any fact or statistic.

Theresa May has come under serious criticism in the past week for likening European migrant workers to ‘queue jumpers’. The comment comes as the Government will soon announce how the UK’s immigration system will look after Britain leaves the EU.

A British Prime Minister legitimising the cliché complaint that immigrants steal our jobs is significant in displaying how Western leaders are no longer worried about vocalising xenophobic views. Yet this is not surprising from a woman like May who has been found responsible for the Windrush scandal and general dehumanisation of migrants during her goal of creating a hostile environment for illegal immigrants in the UK.

Theresa May’s comments solidified many fears that EU nationals living and working in the UK have had since 2016. SNP MP Philippa Whitford spoke of how her German husband, a GP in the NHS for 30 years, was deeply insulted by the comments. She reminded the PM that he and 150,000 other EU citizens have been working in the NHS and contributing majorly to the health of British citizens for decades.

Since the Brexit referendum an unwelcoming atmosphere in the UK has caused EU citizens to leave in larger numbers than before, comments such as Theresa May’s are undoubtedly contributing to this atmosphere. A report from the Office for National Statistics has shown that EU migration to the UK is at a six year low. Migration from countries such as Romania has nearly halved, with Romanians contributing hugely to the UK’s construction industry there is concern over the future of this part of Britain’s economy. Immigration from countries such as Germany and Spain is also approaching half of what it was before the referendum. These migrants are very present in UK universities, contributing to the education of British people and as mentioned, hold many positions within the NHS.

Fear over what this drop in migration will mean for the future of the UK is even present within the Conservative party, with MP Phillip Lee saying that a fall in EU migrants is deeply worrying for our NHS and not what people voted for in 2016.

What is equally as troubling as Theresa May’s rhetoric and a fall in EU migration is recent comments from supposed representative of the left wing, Hillary Clinton. The Democrat candidate in the 2016 US Presidential election has told Europe to curb immigration and tell people we can “no longer offer refuge and support”. She claims immigration has “lit the flame” in the rise of right-wing populism in Europe.

The Guardian’s Nesrine Malik, rightly combatted Clinton’s comments by highlighting her failure to realise “the problem is not immigrants, it is the fear of immigrants.” Malik also says this is typical centrist pandering to xenophobic views. What it also shows however is the major failure of the left to represent immigration as a positive contributor to a nation’s economy.

Left wing candidates have a responsibility to take the issue of immigration head on. Instead of ignoring it or pandering to right wing fears of immigrants as Hillary Clinton’s comments have done, the goal should be to remind people how positive of an impact immigrants have on European countries. The presence of migrants in some of the UK’s most important sectors such as education and health care cannot be disputed. This puts real facts against the xenophobic fiction spouted some Western leaders and by anti-immigration movements such as a considerable proportion of the Leave campaign.

Anonymous think tank funding threatens our democracy

In the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum, the electorate was told to ‘Take Back Control!’ from the unelected officials of the EU, the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels that influence all of the UK’s laws and weren’t allowing British people to decide British laws. You’d think the right-wing groups who support the UK’s exit from the European Union would act in full transparency to show us how democracy should work. Of course, they don’t.

Right-wing think tanks such as the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) are the leading voices in support of free-market capitalism, they both benefit as members of the US-based Atlas Network, receiving large amounts of money and training to promote free-market capitalism in 90 different countries. The TPA alone has received at least £223,000 from US donors in the past 5 years, money which has directly influenced Conservative Government policy. The IEA (Institute of Economic Affairs) is a group that former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has praised for influencing Government in providing tax-cuts for big business. Faceless foreign money being used to influence laws and implement a specific political ideology in nearly 100 countries, this doesn’t conform to Vote Leave’s message of bringing sovereignty back to the British people now, does it?

Labour MP’s have been vocal in their condemnation of these think tanks, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell requesting an inquiry to discover who are the big donators to these groups and Ben Bradshaw voicing his concern about the influence these ‘shady and non-transparent groups’ may have over our democracy.

The individual cases of these groups and their donators are worrying, the links that occur between them and the coordination of their actions is near dystopian.

Vote Leave whistle-blower Shahmir Shanni confirmed that groups such as the TPA, IEA, Vote Leave campaign, as well as other pro-Brexit groups, hold regular meetings to discuss current issues and what coordinated action they should take to influence politics in their favour. The known individuals involved in these different groups have direct links, as they are often the same people. Matthew Elliot was in charge of the Vote Leave campaign, he also founded the TaxPayers’ Alliance. Vote Leave treasurer, Jon Moynihan, was appointed to the IEA’s board earlier this year.

The TPA has admitted they ran a smear campaign against Shanni as he brought to light issues around Vote Leave’s overspending and the connection between these right-wing think tanks. The fear these think tanks have of the public discovering how they function speaks volumes.

Think tanks can be a necessary, even positive contributor to democratic systems. They allow a controlled space in which experts conduct research to discover what issues are important to different individuals and groups of people. In turn, the type of policies that need to be implemented to resolve these issues can be found. Think tanks have had positive impacts, playing a significant role in the democratisation of countries such as Chile and contributing to valuable research to discover what is needed to alleviate poverty in many African nations. If think tanks remain neutral and diverse they can suggest policies that really do help the many. Unfortunately, some of the most influential think tanks today represent a singular ideology and only contain ‘experts’ whose objective it is to implement this ideology. This happens on the left and the right side of politics.

Nonetheless, it is primarily right-wing think tanks which are undermining our democracy. The secretive, anonymous donations they receive mean it is impossible to assess who is seeking to benefit from them influencing Government policies and actions. Brexit is a clear example of this, as big donators to the Vote Leave campaign remain secretive we cannot cross-examine what they would have to gain from the UK leaving the EU. This cross-examination is a key principle of democracy that is being quickly diminished by these think tanks.

New funding for housing to worsen the North-South divide.

When English people talk about the North-South divide, there are often jokes about how Southerners can’t survive a Northern winter, or that a Northerner with a funny accent would immediately burst in to flames if they were forced to eat anything but a Greggs sausage roll for every meal. Unfortunately a very real divide exists today, with recent housing grant plans showing great economic disparities between Northern and Southern regions of England.

The Government are allocating £7 billion in housing grants to build new homes, buy land to build on and regenerate existing estates. A staggering 80% of this money will go to the South of England, with very little help in the North to improve worsening housing issues. Unsurprisingly this has garnered criticism from many representatives of Northern councils.

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has blasted the ‘skewed distribution of public money’ which clearly favours the South. Outrage also came from Judith Blake, leader of Leeds city council, who says the current plan only adds to the economic divide between London and the rest of the UK.

The UK is currently suffering a housing crisis on multiple levels. There is evidence of homelessness rising in cities as more and more people are unable to afford rent prices. Poor quality housing is the major issue in towns such as Blackpool. In Derry, Northern Ireland, many houses sit empty due to large numbers of the population being forced to move away in order to find work that can support them. In more affluent areas, houses can have multiple spare rooms that sit empty and raise questions about the distribution of property, unfortunately people in these areas don’t want to downsize to accommodation that is more suitable.

Along with this incredibly unbalanced grant plan, the Independent revealed earlier this month that Theresa May’s flagship policy for building new council houses will not in fact result in new housing for more than half of those local authorities that need it most. Northern towns and cities such as Bolton, which has the third highest waiting list for social housing, will not be eligible to borrow more so they can meet the demand for families who need homes.

The £7 billion proposal by the Government will do nothing to relieve the pressure of these housing issues across the UK, as some of the most affluent areas such as Kensington and Chelsea will be receiving the majority of the funding. Instead, once again, we are seeing the classic Tory tactic of throwing out a big number that makes it looks like they’re helping those who need it most, when in reality money is going to those that are least deserved.

Deal or No Deal, hosted by Dominic Raab- How the Tories flip flopped on a Brexit deal

At long last we have a clear idea of when a deal will be made with the EU, resolving all issues including the seemingly impossible to negotiate Irish border. Or we did. For two and a half hours.

Much like when a cult leader tells their followers the exact date and time the world will come to an end, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has informed us ‘the end is in sight’ and that he will be able to come to an agreement with the EU by November 21st. Luckily we didn’t have to cross our fingers as the clock passed midnight, instead a spokesperson for Raab’s department told us this date wasn’t official less than three hours after Raab’s proposed timetable was public.

Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Brexit Secretary and Raab’s opposite number, called this ‘one of the quickest u-turns in political history’.

The comment was made in a letter penned to the Brexit select committee, who require Dominic Raab to appear in front of MP’s to give evidence regarding the status of the negotiations. The letter was incredibly optimistic and caused a rise in the pound briefly, once Raab backtracked and it was clear the date wasn’t reliable the value withdrew once again.

Theresa May had to distance herself from the comment, an official spokesperson for the Prime Minister saying they were hoping to reach a deal soon but refused to confirm this date as a realistic deadline. Confusion also came from the EU side, as they confirmed ‘nothing new’ had arose from recent talks with the UK and ‘there are no new ideas’ in regards to the Irish border issue.

The Irish border continues to be the major concern as no current proposals reach the mark with any party involved the negotiations. Just over a week ago Theresa May told MP’s in the Commons that 95% of the negotiations were complete but Northern Ireland was still a ‘sticking point’. Despite the Government’s efforts to downplay the significance of Northern Ireland, their lack of progress makes it clear that the issue is worth far more than 5% of the UK’s negotiation efforts. The Prime Minister has her numbers inverted, we still have 95% of the way to go if we are to reach a deal with the EU and avoid violence erupting in Northern Ireland again.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has put the responsibility on the UK and Dominic Raab to step up the intensity of the talks if a deal is to be agreed in the coming weeks. With the Brexit secretary visiting towns on the border this week and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference being held in Dublin, we should know how close we are to resolving the issue by Friday.

However what we should know and what we do know are always two very different things when it comes to this current Tory Government.