We might not like them but the Independent group as a national party could be a danger to the progressive cause

The majority of the Labour Membership will be delighted with the loss of some of its most rebellious MPs. Figures like Leslie and Umunna are strongly disliked by the Labour faithful and members have long spoken openly about the need to replace MPs who clearly do not have the best interests of the party at heart. But beware sometimes in politics it is best to keep your enemies close.

2 of the 7 MPs had already faced votes of no confidence from their local parties but by jumping they now may cause a huge problem to Labour and the progressive cause in general. In a better democracy, they’d have to call by-elections, and Labour would gain 7 real socialist MPs, but now isn’t the time for hypotheticals about alternative realities. Labour need to gauge the damage the could do to the progressive cause if they formed a party to run in national elections.

Left as they are these MPs will achieve little. Their votes in Parliament aren’t going to change and their habit of throwing grenades at Labour in the media may become less effective now they’ve left the party. Alone they are nothing.

However, if the group became a real nationwide party, in a General Election, they could cause problems. For everyone but the Tories.

While it hasn’t been a fantastic “party” launch, Angela Smith kicked it off by saying something racist on the BBC while journalists such as those at TPN exposed the dodgy legal setup of the party, Labour should not dismiss the group. Labour’s own internal polling should make the leadership very aware of the danger that the group could cause if they form a new centrist party.

In recent polling 17% of those who voted Labour in 2017 said they would be “very likely” to support a new centrist party committed to opposing or overturning Brexit. Another 27% said they would be “fairly likely”. Among Labour’s remainer voters this jumps to 23% and 36% respectively. Support for such a party is highest in London. In seats like Putney 47% of Labour remainers would defect to a new party while in seats like Wimbledon, a key target for Labour, it is 37%.

These aren’t majorities for the Independent group, in any general election I would expect them to win anywhere between zero and five seats but that doesn’t matter. This siphoning of Labour votes would have a dramatic effect on what seats Labour could win. Targets such as Wimbledon would become unwinnable, while seats won in 2017 such as Warwick and Leamington would become nightmare defences.

If the general election in 2017 had happened with a new centrist party the political landscape might be very different. Here is a model of the results of the election with 17% of Labour voters voting for a new centrist party as predicted from Labour’s polling.

It is clear that even if Labour loses a small number of its voters the repercussions on national politics will be dramatic. Some may ask if the Tories will bleed votes to the centre as well but I think this is unlikely. 75% of Conservatives voters voted to leave and therefore the Tories are less exposed to a new political party dragging voters to the centre. A new pro-EU party’s target demographic is Labour’s metropolitan liberals though the Liberal Democrats should also be worried.

There are reasons for Labour to be optimistic. Firstly once Brexit occurs the appeal of a party to overturn Brexit will be gone. It is likely that the Independent group will be a flash in the pan nothing more.

Equally, few politicians and donors want to be part of a party that wins less than 7 seats. The reward is just not worth it. The money and support required to run a national campaign could be seen as lacking especially when members will be seeing a pitiful seat return.

First Past the Post could be Labour’s downfall or its greatest defence. It depends on where the Independent group go.

If they remain 7 defectors, their split will be of no significance. However, if this is the start of a new party then Labour should be worried, and the Tories should lick their lips.

Controversial Voter ID Scheme that could disenfranchise 3.5 million people to be challenged in court

Legal proceedings have begun against the Government following a £20,000 crowdfunding campaign, which was backed by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Neil Coughlan, from Essex, has hired the law firm Leigh Day to challenge the implementation of pilot schemes to require everyone in political referendums and general elections to provide either a passport or a driving license in order to be allowed to vote.

Coughlan has decided to take legal proceedings after not being able to vote in the 2017 general election due to lacking photographic ID, along with many of his own neighbours.

The Voter ID Scheme could leave the estimated 3.5 million registered voters in the UK who do not have any photo ID, and potentially 11 million registered voters who don’t have a physical copy of a passport or drivers license, unable to vote in general elections.

In 2017, there were only 28 cases of fraud out of over 40 million votes cast in the 2017 general election.

The voter ID pilot schemes, which were implemented in 11 councils in the UK, saw 1036 voters being turned away due to having insufficient Identification, and 330 of these voters didn’t return afterwards with the correct ID, leading to 330 citizens being unable to cast their votes.

Tessa Gregory, the solicitor leading the proceedings, said that the voter ID plans would “suppress voter participation, particularly in less affluent wards, where turnout is all too often, already low.”

Leigh Day contests the voter ID schemes as a breach of the Representation of the People Act 2000, which argues that the government cannot legally make changes to voting that makes it harder for people to vote, and it is a requirement that these changes are decided in Parliament, and not by the Executive of a sitting Government on its own.

Neil Coughlan has made a statement mentioning that the Conservative Government’s “dangerous Voter ID plans” will adversely impact less affluent parts of the UK, which are areas that commonly vote Labour in elections.

The case is due to be heard on the 27th of February 2019.

Labour will back new Cooper bill that aims to extend Article 50 to stop No Deal

Keir Starmer has announced Labour will back a bill designed by Yvette Cooper to stop a No Deal and extend Article 50.

The bill would extend Article 50 to allow the government more time to negotiate the withdrawal deal with the EU and prevent the government from running down the clock and delivering a No Deal Brexit.

Cooper hopes to force a vote on an amendment on the 27th February that will force the government to give time to debate her bill. The bill would give May until 13th March to get her deal through Parliament. If this does not occur MPs would vote between a No Deal Brexit and extending Article 50.

It would be up to the government to decide how long the extension is. This is in contrast to Cooper’s last amendment that had it set at 9 months.

Cooper is proposing the amendment and the bill with Conservative MP Sir Oliver Letwin. Caroline Spelman (Tory) who did not vote for the Cooper amendment 2 weeks ago has announced she will back the bill.

14 Labour MPs voted against the amendment two weeks ago ensuring it passed despite Tory rebellions.

In a statement Cooper said;

This bill would require the prime minister and parliament to take crucial decisions by the middle of March at the very latest on whether the UK is leaving with a deal, without a deal or seeking an extension to article 50. It forces the prime minister to tell us whether she wants to leave with no deal or to extend article 50 if she still hasn’t got a deal in place by the middle of March. This bill creates a parliamentary safeguard to prevent us drifting into no deal by accident, and to prevent those crucial decisions being left until the final fortnight. 

The bill would be a major blow to May who hopes to use the threat of No Deal to get her own deal through Parliament. It will find support from Europhillic Tory MPs but Labour will need to do a better job at whipping it MPs in leave constituencies if it wants the bill to pass.

Other amendments that have been proposed include Geraint Davies’ bill that would see Labour MPs back the deal if it is put to a referendum. The referendum would be between Remain and May’s deal. Strangely this is not backed by the People’s Vote campaign. Latest polling says remain would win a referendum against May’s deal by a safe margin. It also includes an extension of Article 50.

Jeremy Corbyn has also tabled an amendment to the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan which would force the Government to hold a fresh vote on her deal by the end of February. This will be tabled on Thursday.

In a statement Corbyn said:

This amendment would stop the Government from running down the clock on the Brexit negotiations, hoping Members of Parliament can be blackmailed into supporting a botched deal.
“This is an act of gross irresponsibility. The Prime Minister is playing for time and playing with people’s jobs, our economic security and the future of our industry.

Labour will hope that May will switch to backing their Brexit deal that includes a comprehensive customs union with the EU post-Brexit.
Reports say Government officials have started planning for a customs Union deal for Brexit in a similar style to the proposals put forward by Jeremy Corbyn, despite Theresa May publicly denouncing the plans last week.

More than 50,000 die waiting for social care in last 2 years

More than 50,000 people have died waiting for social care despite government promises to fix the system 2 years ago.

It has been 700 days since the Tories promised a Green Paper to reform social care funding.

Over 600,000 have had social care refused by their councils and 7,240 have exhausted their spendings paying for their care.

54,025 have died waiting for social care since this promise, the charity Age UK found. Caroline Abrahams  of Age UK said:

“Their final weeks and months might have been more comfortable, and their families’ lives easier, had they been given more support.”

600 people a week are quitting their jobs to care for loved ones full-time.

Twice the government has put off publishing a green paper on social care reform. The government promised to publish a Green Paper on funding adult social care last autumn, but in the end, it did not materialise, instead, saying that it would be published alongside its NHS Long Term Plan.

In January the NHS Long Term Plan was published, but the Green Paper on adult social care was nowhere to be seen. There has been no word from the government on when it will be released.

More follows

Brits are living beyond their means as household debt increases to 133% of disposable income

Latest ONS data suggests that Brits are living beyond their means as household debt has increased to 133% of disposable income. Household debt per head has been increasing constantly since the start of 2013 while household debt of the country has dramatically increased in the last 5 years.

Many believe the government program of austerity is shifting government debt onto the books of citizens who are being forced to live beyond their means.

Household debt has increased every since 2009.

The increase in debt as a percentage of disposal incomes is increasingly worrying as despite household debt climbing in nominal terms the ONS have recorded that as a percentage of disposable income it has remained level despite real wages decreasing across the UK. This would suggest the data manipulation is not enough to hide the dramatic increase in household debt seen above.

The picture may be even worse than shown as unsecured lending has increased to record levels. This is short term debt such as credit card debt and overdrafts rather than debt such as mortgages.

When polled most people perceive both their personal finance and the economy as a whole will worse over the next year. This is to be expected with a No Deal Brexit looming.

Head of Inequalities at the ONS Glenn Everett commenting on the data said:

“Despite high levels of employment, rising incomes and spending across UK households, people are not reporting increases in their well-being. This may be due to worries about rising debt repayments, which could be driving concerns about their future financial situation.”

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has attacked the Tories on the new statistics stating only Labour can deliver and improve the economy by ending austerity.

In a statement he said:

“This should come as a wake-up call to a complacent and out-of-touch government, recklessly heading towards a catastrophic No Deal Brexit while households are having to go into the red to get by.

McDonnell has previously said that the Tory rollout of Universal Credit has been a contributing factor to the rapid rise in household debt.

You can read our Deputy Editor in Chief’s, Seb Chromiak, full analysis of how government fiscal policy is driving this increase in household debt, and the damage this could cause, here.

Analysis from Iwan Doherty- Editor in Chief

The rise of household debt is a pressing issue in our economy. Ever increasing debt is not sustainable and if you want to know what happens when large amounts of people default on debts look up the word recession.

It might be good for the economy in the short term to have large amounts of debt being taken out to fuel spending but it is not sustainable. The government have implemented a policy that gives banks and debt charities £2 million to help them design no-cost repayment plans, however, this is not nearly enough to solve the problem.

Labour believe ending austerity will go a long way to solving the problem and there is good economic reasoning behind this. By reducing the government deficit the Tories have just shifted debt onto private citizens but even ending austerity might not be enough. Any Labour government would need concrete policy designed to get household debt back under control.

The impossible consensus – is China threatening democracy in Taiwan?

It was the 1st January 2019: a new year. Numerous leaders across the world had welcomed it in their own unique way. Theresa May delivered a speech to the United Kingdom from Downing Street, calling for unification and a message of optimism in the face of Brexit uncertainty. Donald Trump chose to pick up his smart phone, sending out a tweet, ‘to all including my many enemies’, displaying the usual tact and magnanimity that has so far defined his presidency. In Moscow, Vladimir Putin addressed his country from a platform in Red Square, running on a theme of charity and family values to gauge his people’s enthusiasm for the challenges that lie ahead.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, Xi Jinping sat down and spoke to nearly 1.5 billion of his fellow Chinese, lauding the successes they had made as ‘comrades’ in 2018 and announcing that China’s reforms ‘will never stop’. Within this speech lay a premise that would be a precursor to his statement the next day. Xi spoke of the resilience of all the Chinese people, hinting at a new found togetherness, and stating that an ambitious construction spree would see over 5.8 million new homes built. “Many people from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan now have resident permits for the mainland.” A new style by the Chinese premier: giving an almost reconciliatory tone when referring to those from across the Formosa Strait in Taiwan.

The next day, 2nd January, the world watched again as Xi sat down and this time sent out a clear message directly to Taiwan. “Chinese people don’t attack Chinese people. We are willing to strive for the prospect of reunification through peaceful methods…we do not promise to renounce the use of force.” Having welcomed in the New Year, Xi took the opportunity to reassert the old Chinese policy of treating Taiwan as merely a disobedient province. The speech proceeded to highlight the problems caused by “foreign forces who seek to interfere”, referred to the pro-independence, ruling DPP party as “separatists” and claiming that unification with the mainland would culminate in greater prosperity, dignity and an enhanced standing within the international community.  The speech prompted a furious response from Tsai ing-wen, President of Taiwan. She said China must accept Taiwan’s democratic institutions and seek a peaceful manner to resolve issues.

This exchange was over three weeks ago and now the western international community appears to have largely forgotten it, but the question remains: is the threat to democracy in Taiwan real?

History shows that there is no love lost between the two countries; the frosty relations can be clearly traced back to the bloody civil war, when Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist Kuomintang party fled to the island of Taiwan from Mao’s victorious communists in 1949. For thirty-years, the relationship between the two was warlike at worst and hostile at best, with several crises almost sparking armed conflict between the two. The thawing in relations that began in 1979 culminated in a breakthrough in the early 1990s, when the two sides came together and agreed on what is known as the ‘1992 consensus’.  This accord stated that the two sides both adhered to the view that there was ‘one China’, with differing interpretations on its consistency. 

Whilst this consensus was hailed as a historic breakthrough, the flaws in it seem to have caused an almost unbreakable impasse. Before going any further, it is important to emphasise that an agreement that has brought relative peace and stability to a notoriously hostile region is something to be commended; in 2008 a high-profile meeting between representatives of both sides led to an agreement to build on postal, trade and transport links between Taiwan and the mainland. However, the ‘consensus’ has only served to delay the inevitable question: how do you build on a consensus when both parties will not tolerate the other’s interpretation of it? Within the context of the Formosa Strait the short answer is: you can’t. China will not abandon its claim to Taiwan; Xi’s New Year speech outlined this clearly. As Shining Tan explained in an article in The Diplomat, the agreement is considered to be a major strategic asset in Beijing, giving them the basis with which to push for reunification and simultaneously oppose Taiwan independence. Furthermore, Xi’s communist party refuses to take part in any further talks unless it is based around the framework of the consensus; that the issues being discussed concern ‘one China’ rather than two separate states. The current political position of Taiwan also serves to complicate matters: the ruling DPP vehemently oppose the consensus, while the KMT opposition supports the agreement in their manifesto. In November 2018, Tsai’s DPP suffered heavily in the midterm elections leading to her resignation as leader of the party. Many political commentators believe that these results were the catalyst for Xi’s aggressive statement from 2nd January.

In the past, Beijing has frequently backed up its claims to Taiwan and opposition to what it calls ‘separatist independence movements’, with shows of military force. Prior to 1979, this was shown with regular artillery bombardments from the mainland. Under Xi’s premiership, the increasingly modernised People’s Liberation Army has, according to some US sources, increased its preparedness in the event of a so-called ‘Taiwan contingency’. Furthermore, satellite photos from May 2018 have shown that China is significantly developing its major air base in the south of the country; a base noted for being only 160 miles from the centre of the Taiwanese capital Taipei.

China hasn’t just limited itself to military posturing in its goal to isolate Taiwan. There is also significant evidence demonstrating that China is ramping up pressure on businesses and governments to accept Taiwan as a part of the People’s Republic. In 2018 the three biggest US airlines, along with Qantas, BA and Lufthansa all bowed to pressure from Beijing and stopped referring to Taiwan as a nation, following demands from the mainland that to almost fifty international airlines.

So what if Taiwan becomes part of China? Xi Jinping has used the famous ‘one country, two systems’ model in Hong Kong as part of his carrot and stick approach with Taiwan. In theory, Taiwan would have a semi-devolved government and democracy would remain reasonably intact but given China’s track record in Hong Kong and its attempts to encroach on the cities democratic institutions, it is no wonder President Tsai was defiant in her response to such a suggestion. In fact, the one face of this stand-off in the Formosa Strait that gives Taiwan a strong position is the current incumbent of the US Presidency. Donald Trump’s fiery and aggressive position concerning China is well-documented, culminating in the current ongoing trade war. Even before his victory in 2016, Trump had accused the Chinese of ‘ripping off America’, of being ‘currency manipulators’ and even claiming climate change was a hoax created by China. It only took a few days into his presidency before Trump went against the status quo and spoke to the leader of Taiwan; the first president since Jimmy Carter to do so. This prompted a furious response from Beijing, but it did not deter ‘The Donald’. Since that time the US position concerning Taiwanese sovereignty has remained strong, with arms sales being approved at a much faster pace than under both Barack Obama and George W. Bush. But, much like the 1992 consensus, the administration’s support for Taiwan could prove problematic, given how unpredictable and aggressive Trump can be. From a Taiwanese perspective, what is more favourable? A volatile, but anti-China, individual in Donald Trump. Or: a more diplomatic President akin to Obama or Clinton. Much will hinge on political developments in the US, particularly with the next Presidential election set for 2020, the same year Tsai will look to triumph in her own election, a vote touted to be a close call after the defeats in the 2018 midterms. One thing is for certain though: no matter what happens, China will be watching very, very closely.

UK tax relief, that overwhelmingly helps rich, balloons to £164 billion

The UK’s tax relief bill has increased to a record £164 billion. The relief which mainly goes towards capital gains exemptions on properties (£27bn), reduced VAT rated (£53bn) and pensions income tax relief (£26bn) has been criticised for overwhelmingly helping the rich and being ineffective use of government funds. The new figures call into question whether the funding is being scrutinised properly by government officials.

The tax relief bill is larger than the UK government’s spending on healthcare and could cover the deficit, at its current level, for 4 years.

Tax relief can be used for a variety of reasons but its ever increasing amount should come as a concern to the taxpayer. Examples that show its often inefficient value include Entrepreneurs’ Relief. This has cost the Treasury £20bn over the last decade and has no measurable impact on entrepreneurship despite being dramatically over budget.

Adam Corlett, Senior Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“Government spending rightly comes under a lot of scrutiny for cost-effectiveness. But tax reliefs often escape even the most basic checks and debate. Today’s figures show that we spend £164 billion on tax reliefs – billions more than we spend on the health of the nation. Given the looming fiscal pressures our country faces, it is particularly hard to justify huge expenditures on Inheritance and Entrepreneurs’ reliefs, both of which overwhelmingly benefit small numbers of the very wealthiest households.

There are also concerns about who benefits most from the tax relief. Proponents of reducing the relief say it overwhelmingly helps the rich. Incentives for business owners who benefit the richest people in Britain have cost the taxpayer £4bn. Capital gains exemptions and pension relief also help the rich disproportionately.

In a statement Peter Dowd MP, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury said:

“Today’s publication reveals the extent of tax giveaways which the Tories have allowed to expand without proper scrutiny. Labour is committed to reducing the corporate tax relief bill and saving taxpayers billions.”

The figure excludes tax relief such as personal tax allowance which is a key part of the tax system.

Analysis from Iwan Doherty- Editor in Chief

The figure should not be used directly as a figure for our corporate welfare bill. While tax relief overwhelmingly helps the richest earners it is not only beneficial to them. However, the rapid rise of this figure alongside our rising corporate welfare in other areas should inspire worry and opportunity. If you want to ‘trim the fat’ off spending this is the place to look, not disability benefits. Labour are right to look at tax relief more closely, there is money to be saved here that can be used for those in much greater need.