By Bev Haigh-Jones

Rishi Sunak’s Tories – “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level” Are they living in the real world?So much has been happening recently within government that one must wonder whether the ruling party has now completely lost the plot.

First, we have Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, who, when elected, claimed that he would make the Tories the party of integrity. Sunak himself is now being investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for failing to declare his wife’s interest in a childcare company that has benefitted from the recent budget. But it seems that the problem goes much deeper – openDemocracy tells us, “over the past few years, the government has repeatedly failed to publish the twice-yearly list of ministers’ interests that it is required by law to publish. As openDemocracy reported last December, Sunak’s entire government appears to be in an ongoing breach of its own ministerial code.” That’s going well then! This video clip of Sunak answering questions at the committee speaks volumes. If that wasn’t evidence enough of our PM’s lack of connection to reality, we hear that he spent £500k in less than two weeks on private jet travel, not only an extortionate waste of taxpayers’ money, but hardly beneficial to the environment. George Monbiot sums it up rather well in this video for Double Down News, and Mitch Benn in the New European provides a list of possible propaganda that could be used by Labour to demonstrate Sunak’s relationship with the real world.

And then there is Liz Truss. You may have thought (or hoped?) that she had melted into obscurity, but not so, I am afraid. Ms Truss is back in the limelight for a number of reasons, including the rumours that she is wishing to appoint at least four new peers in a resignation honours list – that’s almost one for every ten days in office. As stated in the Independent, “Those reported to be on the list include Conservative donor Jon Moynihan; Mark Littlewood, a supporter of “Trussonomics” and director of the Institute for Economic Affairs; Ruth Porter, Ms Truss’s former deputy chief of staff; and pro-Brexit campaigner Matthew Elliott.” It remains to be seen whether Rishi Sunak will allow the list to go ahead. Either way, Liz is still keeping her hand in with a schedule of public speaking, but her statements do bear close scrutiny. Speaking in the USA recently, although she began with what could almost have been interpreted as a case for the UK being a member of the EU, she digressed into a somewhat demented, rambling attack on “woke culture”, the “anti-growth movement” and environmentalism in general. If you have the stomach for it – and the patience, you can see the full recording here.

Moving on to other members of the party, there was yet another corruption scandal recently when Blackpool South MP, Scott Benton, was filmed offering lobbying for payment. As the Times reported, “The Conservative member for Blackpool South, who was elected to his red wall seat in 2019, told undercover reporters from The Times that he was prepared to leak a forthcoming white paper on gambling reform before its official publication, and provide access to ministers and questions in the House in return for payments of up to £2 ,000 a day.” Mr Benton has been suspended from the Tory party pending investigation of this, plus misuse of parliamentary email.

As well as corruption, racism also raised its ugly head this month. Tory Pembrokeshire county councillor, Andrew Edwards, has referred himself to the Public Services Ombudsman after refusing to deny comments that he apparently made on a brief recording. In the recording the voice states “I think all white men should have a black man as a slave”, and “There’s nothing wrong with skin colour, it’s just that they’re lower class than us white people.” Not content with one, apparently, open racist in their midst, the Tories have managed to select Andrew McBride, previously an organiser for the BNP and author of numerous racist and obnoxious tweets, as their candidate for Bracknell. Mr McBride has now been suspended by the party, but it is too late to remove him from the ballot paper, so he will be listed as a Conservative candidate. If he were to win, however, he will be denied the Tory whip.

It seems that even the Tory party are beginning to realise that all may not be well on the home front, since there have been some bizarre stories of late. Firstly, a Times article reported that security staff and cleaners have been sacked from the party headquarters, in an attempt to boost funds in the elections war chest. Secondly, there have been rumours that the party is considering a change of name in order to project a change of image. One suggestion would appear to be that they become The Patriotic Party! Perhaps taking a different strategy, a band of merry Tory members and MPs, including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel, last year created yet another faction within the party – The Conservative Democratic Organisation. Some consider this to be a front for a “Bring Back Boris” campaign, though that is denied by the group. They are due to hold a conference in May and their stated aim is: “Our mission is to strengthen party democracy by ensuring the Conservative Party is representative of the membership and fairly represents their views.” They also apparently have a vision – “Re-enfranchise Conservative Party members to be the masters of their own democratic destiny.” According to the i newspaper. “The organisation is pushing to set up a branch in every constituency in the UK, forming a shadow operation which will seek to hold the official party accountable.”

Background news items. Our News Roundup does not aim to provide competition to the regular media, but rather bring to your attention aspects that you may have missed. The CPTPP has been in the news, of course, but you may not have seen comments on the subject from Mike Galsworthy, (new Chair of the European Movement) and Marina Purkiss, or the articles in Spotted News and on the Trade Justice Movement website, all of which are highly critical, and sceptical of the spin around the subject.

The issue of the UK and its borders lingers on, with one of the latest plans being the proposal to house asylum seekers on a barge. In addition, of course, we had Suella Braverman and other government ministers denying that the delays at Dover had anything to do with Brexit. Grange Travel Commercial Director Ruth Honey disagrees, “My opinion is that the delays seen during early April are the results of Brexit, and I do not see any way of fixing that.” Byline Times have a very good article highlighting how we came to be in this mess in the first place and travel writer Simon Calder sums it up really well in his video. A sad consequence, however, is that Belmond, the company that operates the Orient Express is ceasing the London to Folkestone section of their service and they cite Brexit as the cause. As far as our unofficial borders are concerned, little has changed as yet, although the plans are still there. The New European published an extremely damning and hard-hitting article related to Suella Braverman and her refugee policy, which does not make pleasant reading, but does ring true.

With the recent batch of Labour tweets accusing Rishi Sunak of various misjudgements, policing has once again come under criticism. In response, even as recently as PMQs on Wednesday 19 April, Sunak claimed  among other things that the government was on track to provide 20,000 new police officers. This video from the brilliant Peter Stefanovic would indicate otherwise.

The new requirement for voter ID should be at the forefront of all our minds right now, even for those who don’t live in an area where there will shortly be local elections. Many of us will be fortunate enough to possess one of the accepted means of identification – driver’s licence, passport, 60+ Oyster card, etc. – but many will not. We need to be shouting this from the rooftops and checking with all those we know, especially the younger generation, or those on lower incomes, (as they could be disproportionately affected), to ensure that as few people as possible find themselves excluded from our electoral system. The Guardian provides a very good overview of the injustice of this new ruling and the potential pitfalls for UK voters.

Everyone has heard of the strikes that have been taking place over recent months, but how many are aware of the facts behind the government’s planned anti-strike bill? Another great video from Peter Stefanovic lays out the facts. However one might feel about the rights and wrongs of NHS doctors going on strike, it is worth noting some of the true facts, like Australian pay levels quoted in this tweet, in comparison with UK salaries shown in this one. openDemocracy firmly place the blame for the failure of the NHS on the shoulders of Jeremy Hunt,  while the Mirror report on the government blatantly peddling false graphs in an attempt to downplay the claims made by the nurses regarding their pay levels, and all of this  while the NHS spent £500m to “ease the backlog” which nevertheless resulted in fewer patients being seen.

Lastly in this section, the battle against sewage discharges continues and Surfers Against Sewage have an ongoing petition running which people may wish to sign. Two years ago the government was claiming that it was ”getting tough” with the water companies, but we all know that hasn’t been the case and even some Tories are now calling for re-privatisation.

ChatGPT – the new AI revolution. I won’t profess to know a lot about this, but what little I do know worries me a great deal. The fact that this technology is already in use, but largely hidden from view and that it has the capability of “making up” news articles is certainly cause for concern. Bad enough that searching the web can be a potential minefield of misinformation provided by real people, but when AI is also getting in on the act, what will we ever be able to rely upon in the future?

Brexit benefits – those elusive promises that have never seemed to materialise. Limiting this subject to a brief paragraph in a selection of other news items does not do it justice. I could probably write a significant article around this, if not a complete book, by including such things as The Cluny Lace Company, a business that had operated for more than two hundred years killed by Brexit, the fact that Ineos has chosen Austria over the UK to manufacture its new electric vehicle, and some of the recent letters to The New European. Instead, I will limit my coverage to an update on the “Davis Downside Dossier”, a record begun after David Davis’ statement in 2016 that “there will be no downside to Brexit at all, and considerable upsides.” The latest announcement by Yorkshire Bylines is that this dossier of Brexit downsides has just crossed the milestone of one thousand entries!

After the doom and gloom – the positive stuff. To lighten the mood after all the serious issues above, I wanted to add some positive events of note. Last month we had the excellent news that Mike Galsworthy had been elected as the new Chair of the European Movement, and this month the Movement has again made the news with a series of excellent and moving films celebrating the 25 year anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The European Movement is already gaining more press coverage as a result of Mike’s appointment, as can be seen in the section headed “TIME TO REVISIT BREXIT” in this Politico newsletter, which in turn is leading to Rejoin becoming less of a taboo subject. This Guardian article reminds us what the EU is all about and Jon Dantzig offers a list of existing member countries and those who aspire to that position. Hopefully the UK will be added to that list before too long.

On an encouraging note, a recent report suggests that if the UK wished to rejoin the Horizon scientific research programme, it would not be liable for payment for the last two years.

And finally – a few more local issues. As already mentioned in our “Campaigns” section, the proposed devolution deal, which would also have required the election of a mayor for Cornwall, has now been scrapped by the County Council. A good result, since 69% of those who responded to the consultation were against the proposal.

The Isles of Scilly – into the future. Some of you may well remember an announcement back in 2021 that £48m of government “levelling up funding” had been secured by The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company to build new passenger and freight vessels to service the islands. Those of you who have experienced the sea crossing on the existing Scillonian III would no doubt be looking forward to a smoother ride on any future trips. However, almost two years later, and with no sign of the funding being forthcoming from the government, the company has resorted to applying for a £33.6m loan in order to progress the project. Derek Thomas, Tory MP for the St Ives constituency which includes the islands, said he “understood” why the company decided not to rely on government funding due to the delays.

A warning has been issued to hikers and bikers across the UK about a potentially deadly virus that is carried by ticks. The UK Health Security Agency warned, “Although the risk to the general public is very low, it is important for people to take precautions to protect themselves from tick bites, such as covering their ankles and legs, applying insect repellent and checking clothes and your body for ticks, particularly when visiting areas with long grass such as woods, moorlands and parks.”

Lastly, a reminder. On Sunday, April 23, the UK government will be testing their new emergency alert system. This article explains what you can expect to hear from your mobile phone.

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