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Adam Boulton: European Parliament elections – why battle between EU’s big guns matters for the UK | World News

2024 is known as the year of elections because in these 12 months more voters in more countries than ever before will exercise their right to cast a vote to choose who governs them.

That is the march of democracy – even if nobody was convinced when President Putin was elected, again, in Russia.

The UK is in the throes of a general election campaign which could end 14 years of Conservative rule. Americans will decide whether Donald Trump returns to the White House in November.

In India, a victorious Prime Minister Narendra Modi is licking his wounds after his Hindu nationalist BJP underperformed in the world’s largest election.

Right now, the world’s second-largest election is taking place; this weekend and just over the seas surrounding Great Britain.

It has attracted little attention here, even though the UK took part in it right up until 2019. Even though previous elections of this kind kept Nigel Farage alive as a political force. And even though its outcome may be the most directly consequential for the UK, at least in the short run.

Pic: AP
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Elections for the European Parliament got under way from Thursday in the Netherlands. Pic: AP

This election is also part of a unique experiment. Voters in many countries are electing members of the world’s only functioning trans-national parliament in which MEPs from different countries come together in blocs according to their political ideologies.

More on European Parliament

Since Thursday, nearly 400 million citizens in the European Union’s 27 member states have had the chance to elect a total of 750 members to the European Parliament (EP).

Appropriately, the EP election started on the 80th anniversary of D-Day, 6 June, in the Netherlands, with Ireland voting on Friday, and most other member states at the weekend, including Belgium which is also holding a national election on Sunday.

This seems appropriate because the parliament is designed to be a peaceful unifier of democratic Europe. It is ironic because some of the parties expected to do well this year have links going back to Franco, Mussolini and Hitler.

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From Wednesday: ‘Far right breaking all of European right’

The parliament is the only directly elected EU institution. It is less powerful than most national parliaments. EU policy is directed by the Council of Ministers, who are the elected leaders from individual member states. Plans are carried forward by the Commission, an appointed bureaucracy.

The parliament debates, amends and puts proposals into law, as well as overseeing the Commission’s budget, actions and appointments from current president Ursula von der Leyen.

Lots of politicians move between the EP and their national parliaments. Whether they are candidates standing or not, the results of these elections often have a major impact on what happens in home countries.

For example, during Britain’s membership of the EU, Nigel Farage failed seven times to win first-past-the-post elections to become an MP at Westminster.

Thanks to proportional representation however, he served continuously as an MEP for South East England from June 1999 to January 2020, when the UK left the EU as a result of the Brexit referendum. He made full use of the salary and expenses available to him from the EP.

Pic: AP
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Despite never sitting as MP, Nigel Farage served as an MEP from 1999 to 2019. Pic: AP

Farage has the distinction of having led two different British parties to victory in the EP elections – with very serious consequences.

In 2014, UKIP beat Labour and the Conservatives, panicking David Cameron, the then-Conservative leader, into holding the EU referendum.

Five years later in 2019, when the UK had still not completed its exit from the EU, Farage led what was then called the Brexit Party to first place in the EP election. The Conservatives came fifth. Theresa May fell and Boris Johnson became prime minister with his slogan “get Brexit done”.

The UK is no longer part of the EU. We have our own general election to choose MPs, not MEPs. Farage’s latest party, Reform UK, is standing in the general election.

Across the rest of Europe, the radical right is on the rise. There is talk of Europe’s “Donald Trump moment” amid cost of living concerns.

Populist parties are widely expected to make gains according to opinion polls. If they do, the shakeout between rival blocs on the right will impact on issues including the Ukraine war, mass migration, climate change, and trade.

All matters on which whoever wins the UK election will be hoping for greater co-operation with European neighbours.

Giorgia Meloni, prime minister of Italy and leader of Fratelli di Italia, at a rally for the European Parliament elections. Pic: AP
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Giorgia Meloni, prime minister of Italy and leader of Fratelli di Italia, at a rally for the European Parliament elections. Pic: AP

The results of the EP elections in France, Germany and Italy will greatly influence the direction in which the internal politics of those major UK allies develops.

The contest can also be seen as a battle for the soul of euro-populism – pro-Russia or pro-NATO – between its two feuding queens: Marine Le Pen of the French National Rally (NR), formerly the National Front, and Giorgia Meloni, prime minister of Italy and leader of Fratelli di Italia (FdI).

In Germany, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) is on course to come second ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats.

NR, led in the EP by the charismatic Jordan Bardella, is expected to win 33% of the votes in France, much more than President Emmanuel Macron’s party. And Le Pen is already the most popular candidate ahead of the presidential election in 2027 – when Macron must stand down.

Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella at a National Rally event ahead of the European Parliament elections. Pic: AP
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Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella at a National Rally event ahead of the European Parliament elections. Pic: AP

Radical right parties are already in power or supporting governments in eight EU countries and are expected to come back in Austria’s election due this month.

In total populist parties may end up with more MEPs than the centre-right European Peoples Party (EPP), which has long dominated the parliament, and the struggling Socialists and Democrats.

But it is not clear that the warring factions on the right will unite to act together or work with the mainstream EPP, made up of conventional conservative and Christian Democratic parties.

They have in common ethnic nationalism, anti-wokeism, Islamophobia, hostility to migrants and net zero, and suspicion of climate change and multilateral institutions including the EU, UN and NATO. They differ on the economy – free markets and state intervention – and, above all, on Russia.

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Giorgia Meloni’s FdI, Poland’s Law and Justice party and others European Conservatives and Reformists group are giving strong backing to Ukraine.

But the Identity and Freedom group, dominated by Le Pen’s FR, support a settlement handing territory to Russia, while the AfD, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Austria’s Freedom party belong openly to the Putin fan club.

The radical right will only be able to exert its full influence in the parliament if Meloni and Le Pen can reach an accommodation on such matters as Ukraine or whether von der Leyen should be given a second term as Commission president.

File pic: AP
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The European Parliament will decide whether Ursula von der Leyen continues as Commission president. Pic: AP

This seems unlikely but it has not stopped von der Leyen touring the EU seeking support and making it clear that Europe will give less priority to green policies in the next parliament than it did in the current one.

The largest grouping in the EP recommends who the Commission president should be. In practice, national leaders in the council have usually imposed their own candidate.

Increasing factionalism is preventing the EP from having the influence it would like. Ten groups have official status giving them funding and status on committees, with a further three unofficial groups.

After this election, there may be no sufficiently dominant group emerging to take up a leadership role.

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The split in the mainstream right in the EU is in part a legacy of Britain’s membership of the EU. The ECR only came into existence when David Cameron defied Angela Merkel and pulled the Conservative Party out of the EPP.

Whether the UK is in or out, neither the UK nor the EU are sheltered from the winds of radical right-wing populism.

We here may be too busy to pay much attention to the world’s second-largest election. We won’t be able to ignore its consequences.

Adam Boulton: Sunak’s by-election nightmare, Starmer’s Rochdale headache, and why a May election is a distinct possibility… | Politics News

This week’s two by-elections had something for everyone – except Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives.

Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has now broken into the record books with six by-election gains from the Conservatives, beating New Labour’s performance in the run-up to the 1997 Election.

Reform UK got more than 10% of the votes in both constituencies.

The Liberal Democrats lost two deposits, with less than 5% of votes cast each time. But even they have something to celebrate, according to one polling analyst.

Peter Kellner argues that their four by-election victories over the Tories since 2019 show that they are much better at concentrating their vote than they used to be – when they regularly clocked up 10% plus support across the country with nothing to show for it.

Reform could be falling into a similar trap with significant minority support spread nationwide, enough to damage the Conservatives without a sniff of winning a seat.

Damien Egan reacts as he is surrounded by his supporters, after he won the Kingswood Parliamentary by-election, at Kingswood Park.
Pic: Reuters
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Damien Egan won the Kingswood by-election for Labour.
Pic: Reuters

Labour Party candidate Gen Kitchen celebrates with Labour MP for Chesterfield Toby Perkins after being declared winner in the Wellingborough by-election at the Kettering Leisure Village, Northamptonshire.
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Labour’s Gen Kitchen celebrates after being declared winner in the Wellingborough by-election. Pic: PA

No wonder Nigel Farage is talking about “uniting the centre-right vote” of Conservatives and Reform, without committing himself personally to fight in the approaching general election.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has taken up the call for the two right-wing groupings to come together.

Conservative MP Dame Andrea Jenkyns has leapt on the by-election defeats in Kingswood and Wellingborough to renew her call for Sunak to be replaced.

The prime minister must be wondering why his MPs keep inflicting damage on their party through their own behaviour.

All six of Labour’s by-election gains were precipitated by voluntary or forced resignations by Conservative MPs.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reacts to by-election results
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reacts to last week’s by-election results

The tables will be turned in the next by-election in just 10 days’ time, when Labour is defending the constituency of Rochdale in Lancashire and the party is certain to be the victim of a technical knock-out because it no longer has a candidate.

Starmer’s discomfort in Rochdale and the continued agony of political death by many by-election cuts explain why there is growing speculation that the prime minister may call the general election sooner rather than later in the year, as he has suggested.

Rochdale is an unholy mess for Labour, which exposes one of the most painful divisions in the party.

Labour has held the seat since 2005. Tony Lloyd, who died last month, held it in 2019 with more than half the votes cast.

In its haste to make the best of a sure thing, Labour rushed to hold the vote to find a replacement MP.

Azhar Ali, a local council big wig, was chosen quickly as the Labour candidate. Too quickly, it turns out.

Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali (left), is joined by Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham in Rochdale town centre as he launches his campaign for the up-coming Rochdale by-election, triggered by the death of Sir Tony Lloyd. Picture date: Wednesday February 7, 2024.
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Labour’s former candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali. Pic: PA

The Mail on Sunday and then The Daily Mail exposed comments about the Israel-Gaza conflict which he had made at Labour gatherings, in clear violation of party policy.

Ali had embraced conspiracy theories that Israel allowed the 7 October attacks to happen and made accusations about Jewish influence in the media.

He later issued an “unreserved” apology, saying the comments were “deeply offensive, ignorant, and false”.

After an agonising weekend when Labour leaders tried to keep Ali as their official candidate, he was cut loose along with the candidate in neighbouring Hyndburn for similar comments.

It is easy to see why Starmer was reluctant to act. Nominations for the Rochdale by-election had closed.

Labour was stuck with Ali on the ballot paper as their candidate, come what may. It was too late to select a substitute.

Labour must sit it out for the remainder of the campaign, as Ali presses on as an independent. If he wins, he will not receive the Labour whip.

This will automatically exclude him from being the Labour candidate at the approaching general election.

The party leadership could then impose Paul Waugh as the Labour candidate.

In a move which surprised many, Waugh gave up a career as a top political journalist to stand for selection in this by-election – unsuccessfully as it turned out.

This awkward outcome is probably the best that Labour can hope for.

Two controversial ex-Labour MPs are also standing in the by-election.

Simon Danczuk won Rochdale for Labour in 2010 and then 2015. But he was suspended from the party shortly afterwards for sexting a 17-year-old girl. This time, Danczuk is standing for Reform UK.

The candidacy of George Galloway is of much greater concern.

File photo dated 02/07/21 of George Galloway who has said he is confident a judge will hear his legal challenge against the Batley and Spen by-election result, despite the initial deadline for challenging his defeat having now passed. Issue date: Friday August 6, 2021.
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George Galloway. File pic: PA

Since his first election in 1987, Galloway has been an MP in four constituencies: Glasgow Hillhead/Kelvin for Labour, and Bethnal Green & Bow, and Bradford West, for the Respect Party.

Galloway is pugnacious and articulate, and he specialises in fighting highly charged by-elections.

He is highly litigious and willing to take on his critics. He takes a close interest in the Middle East and is pro-Palestinian.

There have been allegations of antisemitism against him – claims he has strongly denied and even once labelled “outrageous”.

Roughly a third of the population in Rochdale has a Muslim background. As Ali’s comments showed, the Israel-Gaza conflict has already inflamed passions.

Opinion polls show that a clear majority of the British public does not take sides in the current conflict.

Of the remainder, around 20% each sympathise with Israel and the Palestinians. But the balance among Labour activists favours the Palestinians.

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Starmer: ‘People want change’

Rooting out the antisemitism which characterised Labour during Jeremy Corbyn’s far-left leadership is one of Starmer’s signal achievements.

Rough justice has meant that figures such as Corbyn, Diane Abbott and now Ali have been kicked out of the party.

But tensions have mounted as Israel’s high-casualty counteroffensive continues.

Read more from Sky News:
Scottish Labour unanimously backs immediate ceasefire in Gaza
Ukrainians offered 18-month visa extension to stay in UK

In the past, Labour has benefitted from strong support in British Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. In a handful of constituencies, this has been decisive.

Starmer is not pleasing many in his party by lining its Middle East policy up close to the government’s own position.

The Conservatives certainly are not going to give him any credit for backing them up.

Even without the divisive return of Galloway, Conservatives are already saying that the developments in Rochdale reveal that it is the same old Labour Party underneath, for all the changes supposedly wrought by Starmer.

Rochdale means chronic by-election pain for Starmer. There is no end to agony in sight for Sunak either.

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How Labour’s latest row unfolded

There is another by-election in the offing in Lancashire in the marginal constituency of Blackpool South

The Commons Standards Committee has recommended a potentially by-election-triggering 35-day suspension for the Conservative MP Scott Benton over lobbying and corruption allegations.

Voters do not like by-elections in grubby circumstances. They are inclined to punish the incumbent, but the reputation of all politics takes a hit.

The excuses Sunak gave this weekend for the Tory defeats in Kingswood and Wellingborough do not stand up.

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With the general election imminent, these were not “midterm by-elections”. Nor was turnout exceptionally low for such contests. The exception was the massive scale of the drop in the Conservative vote.

The quickest way to make it stop would be to call that general election.

In the past few days, keen observers report an upsurge in activity by those involved in running the Tory campaign.

While Starmer is mired in Rochdale, a giveaway budget on 6 March as the springboard to a May election must remain a distinct possibility – before it gets any worse.

Adam Boulton: Are we in for one of the ‘dirtiest’ election campaigns ever? | Politics News

There was general agreement at the Institute for Government’s Annual conference last week that it would be a good thing for Britain if this year’s election campaign is not “dirty”.

This highfalutin notion was shot down in seconds with equally universal assumption by the assembled politicians and policy wonks that “that is not going to happen”.

A clean campaign would concentrate on policies and competence.

A dirty campaign is built around slurs, distortions and untruths, with those competing for votes slinging mud at each other.

A lot of factors, headed by booming social media, are coming together to suggest that this year we may see one of the dirtiest election campaigns ever.

The IFG delegates had to wait less than a day for their forebodings to come true. There might have been a lot to talk about at Prime Minister’s Questions.

The Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) bill struggling through parliament. The world order threatened by ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza, Israel and the Red Sea.

Record NHS waiting lists are the public’s number one concern. The chancellor is contemplating two rounds of tax cuts.

But no, the leader of the opposition chose to exchange personal insults, much of it based on dubious content circulating on smartphones.

Rishi Sunak  during PMQs
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Rishi Sunak responds to Sir Keir Starmer during PMQs. Pic: Sky News Screengrab

Fair’s fair, Sir Keir Starmer started it this time, but Rishi Sunak had a well-stocked pile to fling back.

Starmer opened up referring to a couple of brief unofficial clips posted online. One showing the prime minister “collapsing in laughter when he was asked by a member of the public about the NHS waiting lists”.

The other “accidentally record[ing] a candid video for Nigel Farage“.

Sunak, who seldom passes up a chance to brand Starmer as a lefty London lawyer, shot back that he is “the man who takes the knee, who wanted to abolish the monarchy, and who still does not know what a woman is”.

Previously Starmer “chose to represent a now-proscribed terrorist group” Hizb ut-Tahrir, and “served” Jeremy Corbyn.

Keir Starmer during PMQs
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Sir Keir Starmer during PMQs. Pic: Sky News Screengrab

Both men knew that the insults they were sticking on each other were essentially unjustified distortions of the other, but that was what they chose to put on the national agenda at the most scrutinized moment of the political week.

Starmer has explicitly changed his party and his previous positions.

Under scrutiny, he has clarified and explained each of the specific acts detailed. It is a core principle of British justice that advocates are not surrogates for their clients.

Sunak was not laughing at the people he was talking to and spoke to them properly after the end of the clip.

The alleged greeting to Farage was repurposing an online meme which allows any name, in this case “Nigel”, to be put into the prime minister’s mouth.

Neither Sunak nor Starmer are classic alpha males.

Sunak comes across as a whiny or petulant geek, Starmer seems hesitant, overcautious and inclined to blame others.

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Starmer pushes PM on childcare. Pic: Sky News Screengrab

Perhaps this is why they feel the need to overcompensate by acting rough and tough. Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, also has his moments of fabricated machismo.

The leaders set the tone and their petulance has been picked up in the campaigning efforts of their underlings and supporters.

Prime minister Boris Johnson took up an online distortion that Starmer had failed, when he was director of public prosecutions, to take action against Jimmy Savile.

This prompted the senior Downing Street aide Munira Mirza to resign protesting that this was “not the normal cut and thrust of politics”.

It soon would be. Labour cited Johnson’s attack as justification for their later personalised digital poster attacks on Rishi Sunak including the smear that he “doesn’t think adults convicted of sexually abusing children should go to prison”.

Labour attack ad on Rishi Sunak
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Labour published an attack advert on social media targeting Rishi Sunak last year. Pic: Labour/X

Since then Keir Starmer has gone out of his way not to back down or apologise; following the code of the playground he promises to punch back hard against any attacks.

At the start of election year he rejected an invitation from Beth Rigby to take up Michelle Obama’s famous recommendation: “When they go low, we go high”.

Instead, he told Sky News’ political editor: “If they want to go with fire, we will meet their fire with fire”.

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‘We will meet their fire with fire’

Donald Trump crafts insults – Lyin’ Ted, Sleepy Joe, Ron DeSanctimonious – with cruel genius and gets away with fabulations.

There is only one Trump; honest political strivers should not try to copy him.

Opinion polls after personalised attacks usually show that support for both sides goes down, though more for the target than the attacker.

This should give all the party leaders something to think about, especially since public respect for politicians is at a record low and a low or differential turnout could be a major factor.

Starmer needs to mobilise enthusiasm for his leadership, not dent it. Sunak’s standing is already low and doesn’t want to drop further.

Labour's latest Sunak attack ad
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Labour’s attack advert targeting Sunak was published on the Conservative Home website earlier this year. Pic: Conservative Home

This government raised spending limits for the election campaign to £35m. Much of it will go on direct messaging to voters – which is harder to police than election broadcasts and billboards.

During the 2019 campaign, the Conservatives spent over a million on Facebook, much of it on messages disparaging Jeremy Corbyn.

Both Labour and Conservatives are already spending over a million a month on Facebook advertising.

Then there is what partisan supporters choose to put up on social media independently.

Labour has already advised its supporters to use humour.

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Even without explicitly taking sides humourists such as Coldwar Steve and Trumpton, liked and retweeted, can make some political weather, often by lowering the tone.

Political propagandising is much more equal opportunity than it used to be. Anyone can post.

On the other hand, the newspapers and other mainstream media no longer have a near monopoly.

In 1997 when The Sun ran its famous “Nightmare on Kinnock Street” and “Will the Last Person to Leave Britain Please Turn Off the Lights” attacks on Labour, the paper’s circulation was 3.9 million.

The Conservative Party display their new poster campaign by driving them past the Houses of Parliament in central London.
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The Conservative Party’s poster campaign attacking Gordon Brown during the 2010 election. Pic: PA

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Post-Brexit trade talks with Canada paused amid row over beef and cheese

The last official figures released were 1.2 million in 2020.

Poster launches used to be major events in political campaigning, but who would bother with them today?

There are some worthwhile lessons to be learned from the classics.

The Saatchi brothers are celebrated for their attacking of billboards: Labour isn’t working, Labour’s tax bombshell and Labour’s Policy on Arms (showing a combat soldier surrendering hands up).

Each of these were masterpieces of wit and effort compared to the Conservatives’ adoption of the BBC newsreader caught giving the finger for “Labour when you ask for their plans to tackle immigration”.

The Saatchis’ best work riffed with precision on policy rather than personal insults.

When the Conservatives tried that with their “New Labour, New Danger” demon eyes poster it misfired; it was difficult to convincingly portray Blair as a devil when other Conservative sources were attacking him as an inexperienced Bambi.

The Conservative Central Office unveiled their latest pre-election campaign weapon, a poster depicting Tony Blair with demonic eyes.
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The Conservative Central Office’s 1996 poster depicting Tony Blair with demonic eyes. Pic: Conservative Central Office

Labour boobed depicting Cameron as a cute bicycling chameleon.

The most effective attacks at PMQs cut directly to the political issues facing the voters, rather than scuffling around in their past record for something compromising.

Mrs Thatcher struck directly and seemingly spontaneously at Michael Foot: “Afraid of an election is he? Afraid? Frightened? Frit?”.

“Weak, weak, weak,” Tony Blair gutted John Major. “You were the future once.”

Sunak, Starmer and their teams of advisors have yet to produce anything as authentic.

Something which would crystallise the political moment.

Instead, they and we can look forward to a year in the dirt as they scrabble around trying to find it.

Adam Boulton: Things may be bad, but there are reasons to be cheerful in 2024 | Politics News

If you think this has been a pretty tough year, you are not alone.

The annual Global Advisor survey conducted around the world by Ipsos records that a majority of us, 53%, think 2023 has been a bad year for us and our family.

Worse, a significantly greater proportion, 70%, say it has been a bad year for their country. This finding perhaps explains the widespread disillusionment with politics and, often, the governments in power.

Let’s face it: things have not gone well abroad or at home in 2023. The second year of war in Ukraine has been joined by the vicious conflagration in the seemingly intractable confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis.

Dozens of other insurgencies and regional wars are being fought out around the world.

In the UK the economy is teetering on the brink of recession as the cost of living pinches. Inflation hit a record high this century, so have NHS waiting lists and immigration into this country.

In spite of all these challenges and suffering, optimism remains an essential element of the human spirit. There are some reasons to be cheerful at the end of this year and as we head into the next.

Things may be bad but we seem to think that things have improved a little bit over the past twelve months, and we are looking forward to them getting better in 2024.

Even the grim majority judging this to be a bad year is smaller than twelve months ago, and has at last recovered to levels before the life-changing COVID pandemic. Worldwide 70% think that next year will be better than this one – up by 5% last year.

Great Britain comes 26th out of the 35 nations picked out by Ipsos, with 64% “optimistic that 2024 will be a better year for me than 2023”. That is just below Spain (66%) and the US (65%) but better than Italy (59%), Germany (57%) and France (46%).

There are still major financial worries; though here the gloom lifted slightly to its lowest since the end of 2021.

Ipsos’ net economic optimism index is still pessimistic at -28, but it is now moving in the right direction.

Only 22% think the economy will improve in the next year but that is up +3 from last month.

A sobering 50% say it will get worse, though that is down five. Still, stock markets are up and the expectations are that energy costs are heading downward.

A major factor behind the gradual return in confidence may be that people feel less powerless.

Many have the opportunity to make changes next year. More people than ever, around four billion globally, will have the chance to take part in elections next year in more than 70 countries, some 40 of which are considered to be free and fair democracies.

Not all these elections hold out the possibility of regime change.

That could happen in general elections in the US on 5 November, and in the UK, sometime next year and not the last possible date in January 2025, according to the prime minister.

There are also general or presidential elections in South Korea, South Africa, Pakistan, India and Russia – in descending order of those likely to be fair.

The elections for the European Parliament across the EU will give an important indication of the strength of populist concerns about immigration.

The British prime minister has not yet delivered his pledge to “stop the boats” but he can claim credit for reducing the number crossing the Channel by a third – largely through increased co-operation with Albania and France, rather than the expensive and stymied deportation to Rwanda policy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gives an update on the plan to "stop the boats" and illegal migration.

After the three prime ministers in 2022 and the turmoil of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak has brought stability to UK politics, just as things seem settled for now in the British monarchy.

He has not been rewarded with loyalty from his own MPs, and they remain perhaps the greatest threat to his chances of holding the election at the time of his choosing – seemingly next autumn, as he chalks up two years in 10 Downing Street.

Labour’s lead in the opinion polls remains commanding, although over the year it has trimmed from an average of 20% to 18%. Labour’s strength has been confirmed in local elections and by-election victories.

These also included a decline in support for the Scottish National Party, which could be a decisive factor in a clear victory for Sir Keir Starmer. There will be another by-election test early in 2024 in Peter Bone’s former seat of Wellingborough.

In the general election year, the pressure will be on Sir Keir as an apparent prime minister in waiting.

The Conservatives are already targeting him as a “lefty lawyer”. Much more importantly for the health of the country, Labour will be under intense scrutiny for its own policies and ideas to rebuild the country, rather than simply pointing to the failures of the Conservatives over the past 13 years.

Whatever the outcome of the British general election of 2024 there will be a major clear out and refresh of the compromised and discredited political elite. Over 70 incumbent MPs have announced their intention of standing down, more than 50 of them Conservatives.

That figure is expected to climb towards 100 once the poll is imminent.

Jeopardy seems greater in the United States, where one way or another the Donald Trump issue will be settled.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally on Sunday

There is an urgent need for that. Current conventional wisdom is that he is on course to secure the Republican nomination, and narrow favourite to beat Joe Biden in November.

I believe that democracy in America is not so supine. I expect that campaign 2024 will be tumultuous. Mr Trump has deepening legal problems and most Americans think Mr Biden is too old to be re-elected. It is too soon to conclude that either or both will be the main candidates come the vote.

Twenty-two months after Russia’s all-out attack, and a decade after its occupation of some of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has still not conquered his neighbour, after the loss of over 300,000 of his troops.

There are concerns about Ukraine-fatigue and the willingness of Western allies to sustain Ukraine’s defence.

But Nato has revived and embraced Ukraine while the EU has accepted it as an applicant country. Mr Putin will never prevail in extinguishing Ukraine as an independent nation.

It is even harder to identify glimmers of hope in the ongoing bloodshed in the Middle East – the horrific terror attack on Israel by Hamas and the heavy-handed response by Israel to track down killers who are using the civilian population of Gaza and their Israeli hostages as human shields. At least the war has not yet spread across the region.

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip  
Pic:Israel Defence Forces/Reuters
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An Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip

After decades of negligence by the international community, it is apparent that neither the status quo before the 7 October attack nor the respective policies of the Netanyahu and Hamas-led governments are viable going forward.

Nobody has a better answer than a two-state solution, which has been increasingly advocated by foreign governments including the UK, US and EU. Whatever the belligerents are saying, my expectation is that over time a two-state solution will be imposed, by external international pressure if necessary.

The Ipsos survey identified other major global concerns. 2023 has been the hottest year on record and 81% expect average global temperatures will be higher in 2024. A majority think artificial intelligence will cost more jobs than it creates. 59% expect to spend more time in the office and less working from home.

Each of these can be subject to a glass-half-full or half-empty analysis. This has already been applied to this December’s COP28 which the UN says signals “the beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era.

Most of us are only just waking up to the possibilities opened by AI, while lawmakers are rightly alert to its implications. Similarly we are still feeling our way towards the best hybrid balances for work and home; when we get there both productivity and well-being will improve.

This season we should not let these great challenges get us down. We have good reasons to hope for a happier new year.

Adam Johnson death: ‘Risk of future deaths’ unless ice hockey neck guards become mandatory, says coroner | UK News

The coroner investigating the death of Nottingham Panthers player Adam Johnson has said neck guards should be mandatory.

Sheffield’s senior coroner Tanyka Rawden opened the inquest into the death of Mr Johnson on Friday after he was hit in the neck by the skate of a member of the opposing Sheffield Steelers team at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena.

Her report, addressed to Ice Hockey UK and the English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA), says: “During the course of the investigation my inquiries revealed matters giving rise to concern.

“In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken. In the circumstances it is my statutory duty to report to you.”

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Vigil held for hockey star Adam Johnson

Ms Rawden outlined the “matters of concern” as: “The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) recommends that neck guards or protectors are worn, but there is no requirement for ice hockey players over the age of 18 to wear equipment designed to protect the neck.

“In due course the inquest will consider whether the use of a neck guard or protector could have prevented Mr Johnson’s death.

“At this stage in my investigation however, I am sufficiently concerned that deaths may occur in the future if neck guards or protectors are not worn.”

The death of the 29-year-old American shocked the hockey world, especially because the incident happened in front of 8,000 fans, including many children.

According to the Prevention of Future Deaths (PFD) Report: “During the game Mr Johnson sustained an incised wound to the neck caused by the skate of another player.

“He was taken by ambulance to the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield where he died as a result of his injury.”

The report requires the governing body to respond within 56 days and adds: “Your response must contain details of action taken or proposed to be taken, setting out the timetable for action.

“Otherwise, you must explain why no action is proposed.”

Read more:
Family describe watching moment Johnson was fatally injured
Girlfriend pays tribute to ice hockey player

Teammate hits out at ‘terrible’ abuse of opposition player

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Ice hockey player dies during game

Elite Ice Hockey League will not make neck guards mandatory

It is highly unusual for a coroner to issue a PFD report so early in an inquest. They are usually produced after a full inquest is concluded and Ms Rawden made it clear on Friday the hearing will not take place for many months.

South Yorkshire Police are also continuing to investigate the incident.

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‘He was such a kind soul’

The Elite Ice Hockey League has said it will not make the use of neck guards mandatory but will “strongly encourage” players and officials to wear them following the tragedy.

Last week, the English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA) said neck guards will become mandatory from 2024, but the Elite League is not under its control.

Ice hockey fans paid tribute to Mr Johnson at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena on Saturday, with many supporters in tears as they signed books of condolence.

The UK is floundering and has a problem | Adam Boulton | Politics News

Boris Johnson’s term as prime minister tested the British state to destruction. 

In the end, his ill-considered, negligent and self-deceiving style of leadership destroyed his political career. He took the public’s confidence in those who govern us down with him. No cog in the machinery of power – prime minister, cabinet, civil service, special advisers, MPs, independent experts – is emerging with their reputation intact from the hearings at the COVID inquiry.

Those who were in the engine room of No 10 damned themselves with their own mouths and texting fingers as they gave evidence to protect their own backs and plunge knives into their former colleagues.

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Many of the problems were down to the leading personalities involved – Johnson, who was generally likened by his staff to a broken supermarket trolley, veering off in all directions – and his closest adviser Dominic Cummings, who admitted to the inquiry that he should never have been taken into No 10. Their extreme behaviour exposed a system in which the wrong people, arrived at the wrong decisions, taken in the wrong way.

But there is a growing sense of foreboding that the faults in the system do not depend on the behaviour of a bunch of miscreants. When pulled by whoever may be in Downing Street, the levers of power are not propelling the nation in the right direction – if they work at all.

We all know how the UK’s unwritten constitution is supposed to work. Voters choose a government at general elections by giving a party or coalition of parties a majority of MPs in the House of Commons. The ruling party chooses who is prime minister by selecting their leader – as we know from recent turmoil, they can also depose them.

Once installed, the prime minister has considerable executive power to take decisions without automatically referring them to parliament. Some constitutionalists reckon that the British PM is more powerful than an American president. The prime minister appoints the cabinet, and they preside over departments overseeing all aspects of national life, from the NHS and schools to foreign policy and the nation’s finances.

In the UK, the government is assisted and advised by two groups of officials: an impartial civil service, charged with implementing government policy, headed by the cabinet secretary, and a cadre of politically committed special advisers.

Read more:
The key moments from the COVID inquiry this week
No 10 had ‘unbelievably bullish’ approach to pandemic

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Cummings says PM was known as a ‘trolley’

What the inquiry has uncovered

The evidence to the inquiry shows that this web of checks and balances around prime ministers, designed to deliver effective and decent government, comprehensively failed in the case of Boris Johnson. Many would say it also failed under Theresa May and Liz Truss.

The UK is floundering and has a problem.

None of this will come as a surprise to those who watched the television dramas and documentaries about the Johnson government during COVID, including This England on Sky, State Of Chaos on BBC and Partygate on Channel 4.

The full ugly incompetence of those responding to the arrival of COVID in the UK is now being put on the record. Former deputy cabinet secretary Helen McNamara, who cut perhaps the most sympathetic and apologetic figure in the witness box, complained of the toxic, “violent and misogynistic” working atmosphere at the height of the pandemic. She blamed Johnson’s closest aide Dominic Cummings but shared his diagnosis that the “government was dysfunctional”.

Both she and Cummings were among those in government who broke the regulations they were imposing on the country. McNamara admitted “it’s hard to pick a day when we did not break the lockdown rules”.

There was general agreement in the testimony that then health secretary Matt Hancock repeatedly lied about what his department had and had not done. Cummings viewed ministers as “useless f***pigs, morons and c***s”. The Cabinet Office, designed to coordinate government activity around the prime minister, was “terrifyingly s***”, in his view. The cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill was “out to lunch” but his Cummings-backed replacement Simon Case was soon texting about “being at the end of my tether” with the prime minister and that “we look like a terrible joke”.

Cummings despised the usual forums of decision-taking such as cabinet and COBRA emergency meetings, in part because of “leaks” from them, but he proved incapable of organising Downing Street effectively himself, not least because of his bullying unpleasantness to many colleagues.

Alastair Campbell in his office in Downing Street after announcing his resignation as Director of Communications to Prime Minister Tony Blair, in London. Blair's top aide announced his resignation on Friday in a shock decision that comes amid the worst crisis of the British premier's six-year rule.
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Alastair Campbell was a powerful figure in Tony Blair’s Downing Street

How Number 10 arrived here

The Johnson/Cummings meltdown is not the only time when there has been concern about the workings of our government. Complaints about “presidential” prime ministers date back to the days of Margaret Thatcher and have grown louder since another long-lasting premiership, that of Tony Blair.

Politically appointed advisers came into prominence under Blair. They became public figures in their own right, overshadowing civil servants. Thatcher’s press secretary, Bernard Ingham, did not attend cabinet meetings. He waited to be briefed on cabinet meetings by the cabinet secretary before speaking to reporters.

Blair’s spokesman Alastair Campbell sat in at cabinet – along with numerous other special advisers. Campbell made no bones about speaking on behalf of the prime minister directly and about telling cabinet ministers what to do. He also took political control of the information flow about government activity, all but gagging civil service information officers.

Blair also appointed a “chief of staff”, Jonathan Powell, who took over some of the functions driving the government from the cabinet secretary. Critics of the changes argue that Blair weakened cabinet secretaries went native, seeing themselves as Blair’s personal servants rather than the imposing impartial advisers typified by Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister.

The Blair model worked for Blair. His formidable team of political appointees were loyal only to the prime minister and less accountable than either elected politicians or civil servants. He and his ministers remained directly accountable, through frequent appearances on the media, and in parliament. The trouble has come from the admirers and imitators who came after the Blair government.

For ambitious SpAds, Sir Humphrey was replaced as a role model by the foul-mouthed and bullying Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It, as shown in the slouchy, sweary, insolent and intimidating informality of Cummings and his text messages.

Johnson’s Downing Street got Tucker, the negative caricature, shorn of the original Campbell’s intelligence, political principle and dedication to his boss.

New Prime Minister Boris Johnson is clapped into 10 Downing Street by staff after seeing Queen Elizabeth II and accepting her invitation to become Prime Minister and form a new government.
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Will chaos of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street be repeated

Can we stop it happening again?

Subsequent prime ministers all failed to recruit teams of personal advisers to match the quality of Blair’s so-called “sofa government” while they still had to fall back on the disempowered civil service which he left behind.

Influential think tank The Institute for Government has set up a commission to look into “why No 10, the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury do not always work as well as they should and what could be done to radically improve the centre of UK government”.

Its 18 commissioners are drawn from “the great and good” of politics, Whitehall, academia, journalism and the media. They are due to report back next February. Whether anyone in power, or likely to get it, takes any notice of their recommendations is another matter.

The main lesson being taken away from the COVID hearings seems to be how to cover up better in future by using the automatic delete function on WhatsApp or losing an incriminating phone altogether.

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The truth is that the current heights of unaccountability are convenient for ministers, if not the country. They are their own judge and jury on ethical behaviour and have uprooted the customary guardrails around acceptable conduct in government. Rishi Sunak is the sole arbiter of whether the ministerial code has been breached and has the power, for instance, to abandon a major infrastructure scheme such as HS2, approved by parliament, on a party conference whim.

The COVID inquiry is doing the public the favour of exposing the catastrophic depths of dysfunction to which the British government descended. As yet, there is nothing in place to stop it happening again.

Adam Boulton: Double by-election defeat leaves Tories asking is this a re-run of 1992 or 1997? | Politics News

Voters in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire have just given a resounding answer to the question obsessing Westminster watchers all year:

“Does the run-in to the next general election feel more like the approach to the 1992 or the 1997 election?”.

This is really the political nerds’ version of the basic question of interest to most of us:

“Is there going to be a change of government?” or, more bluntly still, “Are the Conservatives going to lose?”.

More on the 1992 false dawn for Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party later in this article.

Politics live: Leaked WhatsApp messages reveal Tory dismay

First look at the developing similarities in the parliamentary by-election records from 2019 to the present day and 1992-1997, when John Major’s full term ended with the Labour landslide led by Tony Blair.

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Is Starmer on the path to Downing Street?

A lot of the comparisons are statistical. There is also a mirror image similarity in that both eras witnessed a collapse in both the morale and the morals of the ruling Conservative Party.

Among other issues, this can be seen in the quality of the candidates they are putting forward today.

It is of course the luck of the draw which seats fall vacant between elections.

But as the number of by-elections mounts over a typical four or five-year parliamentary term, a comparable list typically emerges.

Ghosts of elections passed

For example, by a quirk of fate, the last by-election in the Tamworth constituency was in December 1995.

Labour captured South-East Staffordshire, as it was then named, with a swing from the Conservatives of 22.1%.

On Thursday night Labour gained Tamworth with a record swing of 23.9%.

Tamworth and Mid Beds were the eighteenth and nineteenth by-elections this parliament. Of those 10 seats changed hands between parties.

The Conservatives lost eight of them, four to Labour and four to the Liberal Democrats.

Labour also won Rutherglen and Hamilton from the SNP earlier this month and the Conservatives took the “classic red wall” constituency of Hartlepool off Labour at the height of Boris Johnson’s premiership in early 2021.

A lot has changed since then.

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Labour ‘can see the summit’ after by-election wins

There were seventeen by-elections in Great Britain in the 1992-1997 parliament, eight won by another party.

The Conservatives lost all of these, four to the Liberal Democrats, three to Labour, including SE Staffs, and one, Perth and Kinross, to the SNP.

Labour, the main opposition party, seems to be doing better in this cycle than it did a generation ago, in spite of the popularity of the leader then, Tony Blair, far exceeding the ratings of Sir Keir Starmer today.

Back then the Liberal Democrats won more seats than Labour. This time they are behind 5-4, having lost their challenge to Labour in the three-way Mid Beds battlefield, which they claimed was ideal Lib Dem by-election territory.

The Lib Dems were also down to 1.6% in Tamworth, losing their deposit. In the aftermath on Friday morning Daisy Cooper, the ambitious Lib Dem deputy leader, claimed that her party had served Labour by winning over some Conservative voters.

Labour campaigners don’t see it that way.

Read more:
Tory party chair won’t resign despite by-election losses
Sunak puts by-election disasters down to mid-term blues
Starmer cannot afford to be ‘boring’

In the ’92 parliament, four seats changed hands on swings of 20% or more – two Lib Dem and two Labour.

Labour have clocked up three victories on that scale since July.

The by-election results last week suggest that the voters are worried about the cost of living crisis and poor standards of government.

Most seem to have put Brexit to one side. Tamworth, like most of the Midlands, voted heavily to leave the EU.

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‘Looking at exceptional swings’

The Conservatives will also be worried that the Reform Party drained off 3.7% of the votes in Tamworth and 5.4% in Mid Beds.

In each case Reform’s total was bigger than Labour’s new majority.

One option for the Tories would be to try to woo them by shifting to the right.

Unlike the run-up to ’97, when the SNP was stirring, Labour’s support appears to be recovering in Scotland.

This is one of the three reasons why Peter Kellner, the habitually cautious political analyst and founder of YouGov, now anticipates a Labour majority government.

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Labour wins Tamworth: ‘It’s time for change’

His other pointers are Rishi Sunak’s declining ratings and evidence of anti-Tory tactical voting.

Kellner also concludes that Keir Starmer has overcome the Labour “fear factor”.

YouGov’s data shows that “he has persuaded seven million Tories (out of the 14 million last time) that they have nothing to fear from a Labour government”.

Back to basics – back again?

This is very different from the run-up to 1992, when Conservatives and their allies in the media successfully targeted Labour leader Neil Kinnock and the tax rises proposed in the shadow budget.

After taking over from Margaret Thatcher, John Major won the 1992 election. A few months later on Black Wednesday, 16 September 1982, his government’s economic credibility collapsed.

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Defeated Tory candidate walks out

The Conservatives’ popularity plunged and never recovered. People had been threatened with dramatic increases in the cost of their mortgages.

Meanwhile senior Tories were caught up in a succession of so-called “sleaze’ allegations, some more serious than others, of sexual or financial impropriety.

Following an ill-judged party conference speech by Prime Minister Major theses came to be known under the headline “back to basics”.

Ministers and senior MPs implicated in scandals included David Mellor, Michael Mates, Tim Yeo, Alan Duncan, Michael Brown, Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken.

Since Boris Johnson won his “stonking” general election victory in 2019, the public has been hit by two shocks – one sleazy and one economic.

Both resulted in sustained drops in the Conservative Party’s poll ratings.

Partygate, the revelations of routine flouting of COVID restrictions by Boris Johnson and his staff contributed to his downfall.

Policies introduced by his short-lived successor Liz Truss did lasting damage to the UK economy and household budgets.

Truss was feted at this year’s Conservative Party conference.

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Unsuitable candidates

More broadly the Conservatives seem unwilling to respect the common decencies of behaviour, rightly demanded of politicians.

Both the recent by-elections resulted from the personal misconduct of the departing MP: allegations of groping men by Chris Pincher, and Nadine Dorries’ strop over not getting a peerage.

The Tory Party then failed to get a grip on the two candidates who replaced them.

Festus Akimbusoye would have had to resign as local Police and Crime Commissioner if he had won.

To avoid another by-election, the Tories rejected a neighbouring MP, Eddie Hughes, who had already been chosen to fight Tamworth under new boundaries.

His replacement Andrew Cooper, a local councillor and former soldier, was found to have said “f*** off” on social media to benefit claimants with phone or TV subscriptions.

Cooper broke with tradition at the count declaration by leaving the stage before the candidates made their traditional speeches of thanks.

The Conservative strategy in both campaigns was to keep their candidates under wraps and avoid exposing them to the media.

The party is now claiming that the low turnout by voters, which is normal at by-elections, suggests there are masses of Conservative voters who sat at home but will turn out at a general election.

We shall see.

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PM: ‘I’m hungry for change’

Labour held the three seats it won in by-elections before 1997 until at least 2010.

In contrast the Conservatives won back all seven by-election constituencies they had lost at the subsequent 1992 general election.

There are currently around 16 MPs sitting as independents having lost their party whip.

Eight of them were Labour, including Nick Brown, Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott.

Kier Starmer, the former public prosecutor, has adopted a zero-tolerance stance. If they are not reinstated they will not be able to stand as Labour candidates at the next election.

Standards of behaviour expected of MPs are changing.

Some of the women members standing down have complained of their treatment while in parliament.

Five of the eight successful candidates who snatched by-election victories during this parliament were women.

Meanwhile the proportion of women selected to fight seats for the Conservatives in England is down to less than one in four.

Another by-election?

There is another potential by-election in the offing.

A recall petition will be triggered in Wellingborough if MPs vote to uphold the six-week suspension of Conservative MP Peter Bone recommended by parliament’s Independent Expert Panel for bullying and sexual misconduct.

The outspoken Brexiteer and Johnson-era minister held the Northamptonshire constituency with an 18,540 majority in 2019.

The voting profile is similar to Tamworth’s. It would take a swing of 17.9% for Labour to take it.

This parliament could yet get worse than 1992-1997 for the Conservatives.

Adam Provan: Former Metropolitan Police officer jailed for 16 years for raping woman and girl | UK News

Former Metropolitan Police officer Adam Provan has been jailed for 16 years – with another eight years on extended licence for multiple rapes against a teenage girl and a female police officer.

The 44-year-old was convicted in June of six counts of rape of a fellow police officer between 2003 and 2005.

He was also found guilty of two counts of rape of a 16-year-old girl, who he met on a blind date after lying about his age in 2010.

Judge Noel Lucas said he was troubled by the way the Met handled the female police officer’s initial complaints about Provan’s behaviour in 2005.

He said those who dealt with the complaints at the Met “were more concerned with looking after one of their own than taking her seriously” – and had an investigation been taken forward, the teenage victim may have been spared.

Sentencing Provan at Wood Green Crown Court, the judge said he displayed a “cold-blooded entitlement to sex” then immediately behaved as if everything was “completely normal”.

He concluded that the “persistence and seriousness” of Provan’s offending was clear, adding: “By your actions, you brought disgrace on the police force.”

Read more:
‘Provan had ‘fascination bordering on obsessive’ with young women

Provan was a serving officer in the Met Police East Area Command Unit at the time of the offences.

He was jailed for nine years in 2018 after being convicted of raping the 16-year-old victim following a retrial – and served three years and three months in prison before a successfully appeal.

When his case was sent for a third trial in May, six new counts of rape were added – relating to earlier offences against the serving Metropolitan Police officer.

On the first day of a two-day sentencing hearing, it was revealed that Provan had 751 female contacts in his mobile.

Prosecutor Anthony Metzer KC said details from the phone “strongly suggested” there was sexual activity with the women, many of whom were young.

Mr Metzer said Provan used his position to gain the trust of young women and had “aspects of a Jekyll And Hyde character”.

He added that Provan had an “extended history of allegations” of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1990s.

Speaking at the court from behind a screen, the teenage victim, who is now in her 20s, said: “The day I met Adam Provan changed my life forever.

“No prison sentence will take away the harm Adam Provan has caused me. No amount of justice will make me forget the date from hell.

“Even though I tried my best to block it out I will never forget how scared I was when the assault took place, and 13 years later reliving my worst nightmare.”

Being told that Provan really was a police officer, as he had claimed to be, was “sickening”, she said.

The other victim, still a serving officer, said she had “lived in constant fear” that Provan would kill her, and felt he saw himself as “untouchable”.

She told the court that she also felt the police had not dealt with Provan and had failed to protect her.

Adam Boulton: Westminster’s ‘nepo babies’ are here to stay – whether we like it or not | Politics News

“It’s not who you are but who you know” is a saying often used to explain why those with family connections to successful people seem to have a head start doing well in the next generation.

In the US this phenomenon has led Gen Z to coin a new tag “nepo babies” as they list those in showbusiness deemed to have been given a big helping hand by family connections.

Regardless of the talent they have displayed in their own work, the inference is that they got there in part because of nepotism – those in positions of power and influence favouring their relatives, literally from the Greek Nepos, nephew.

It will always be noted that the actor Kate Hudson and film director Sophia Coppola, say, are the children, respectively, of the actor Goldie Hawn and the film director Francis Ford Coppola.

With emotions ranging from contempt and jealousy to admiration and awe, social media has extended the list of nepo babies to sport and politics.

Kate Hudson and Goldie Hawn at the premiere of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Pic: AP)
Image:
Kate Hudson and Goldie Hawn at the premiere of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Pic: AP)

“In tennis the ‘nepo babies’ are everywhere” was the headline of an article in the New York Times this week. Nobody can deny that numerous members of the Roosevelts, Kennedys and Bush clans have made it to high office.

The phenomenon or, as many see it, the problem of nepotism extends to British politics.

Since 2010 the House of Commons library has been keeping a list of MPs related to other current or former members.

In the current parliament, elected in 2019, 49 MPs are listed. That amounts to one MP in 13, 7.5% of the total membership of 650.

It does not count those who may have close relatives in the House of Lords, or first cousins in either house.

Of those currently in the Commons related by blood to MPs past and present there are 17 grandchildren, great-grandchildren nephews, nieces, great-nephews and great-nieces; 13 sons; 4 daughters; 3 sisters; 2 brothers; and one uncle. Currently there are also seven wives and five husbands, though that is a matter of choice rather than genetics.

Some of these have multiple connections. The inclination to dynasticism is not confined to any party. The former Labour cabinet minister Hilary Benn has five links, including to his father Tony Benn, the staunch Republican, a grandfather, two great-grandfathers and a brother who has revived the family title, Viscount Stansgate, in the House of Lords.

Intricate nexus of family connections

The best-connected Conservative is the MP for the Cotswolds Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown who has forebears in the Commons sharing the same surname going back four generations.

The most intricate nexus of family connections centres on John Cryer, currently chair of the parliamentary Labour Party. He is the son of two Labour MPs – Bob and Ann Cryer – married to another one, Ellie Reeves, who in turn is the sister of the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves.

Three Conservative ministers – Victoria Prentis, Victoria Atkins and Andrew Mitchell – are the children of former Tory Ministers. “Red Princes” on the Labour side include frontbencher Stephen Kinnock, son of former leader Neil and Mr Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, son of Doug, now Lord, Hoyle.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle
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Sir Lindsay Hoyle

The Father of the House, the longest serving MP, Sir Peter Bottomley is married to a former Tory MP, Virginia, and the uncle of a Labour one, Kitty Ussher. Sir Patrick Jenkin, the chair of the Liaison Committee, is the son of Patrick, a former cabinet minister now in the Lords, and married to another peer, Anne, who has had a leading role in selecting Conservative parliamentary candidates.

The political connections game is not limited to Labour and the Conservatives. Great Liberal families include the Asquiths, Bonham-Carters and Grimonds, some of whom are still active in the Lords.

For the DUP Ian Paisley Junior bears the name of his father, a former MP, MLA, MEP and husband of a peer. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is married to Peter Murrell CEO of the SNP.

Social media has exposed people’s backgrounds and made it increasingly likely that they will be pigeon-holed for them.

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‘Magic circles’ of influence

Those who feel excluded from “magic circles” of influence are often resentful, especially when there is rivalry between circles – sometimes to comic effect.

The broadcaster Amol Rajan complained publicly about too many presenters at the BBC speaking with received-pronunciation accents, often picked up at private schools.

His Today programme colleague Justin Webb, who went to private school, countered that he thought there were too many people at the BBC with Oxbridge backgrounds. Rajan is a Cambridge graduate, Webb went to the LSE.

Charges of nepotism are taken more seriously than such narcissism of small differences. Ian Wooldridge, the author of The Aristocracy Of Talent: How Meritocracy Made The Modern World, argues that “the march of progress can be measured by the abolition of nepotism”.

For use in UK, Ireland or Benelux countries only Undated BBC handout photo of Amol Rajan, who is to replace Jeremy Paxman as the host of University Challenge, the BBC has said. Issue date: Thursday August 18, 2022.
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Amol Rajan is a Cambridge graduate

Few would challenge his contention that “it can’t be good for democracy if representative positions are hogged by people who belong to a narrow, privileged caste”.

Yet anyone who becomes an MP must pass successfully thorough democratic selection processes.

First by getting on a party candidates list, then by being selected, and finally by winning an election. The factionalism of politics can mean that it is not always an asset to have well-known antecedents.

For a high-profile position such as an MP, which is heavily dependent on personality, it would be almost impossible to go “CV blind” – unless unnamed candidates were interviewed unseen behind a screen like on the old TV show Blind Date and at some orchestral auditions.

In many walks of life families want to pass a particular occupation or business down the generations. Children may get to know the ropes early. Speaker Hoyle says he first attended a Labour Conference as a babe in arms.

Long successions of nepo babies

In history the hereditary principle has frequently been the basis of social and political organisation. Monarchies, including the British Crown, are long successions of nepo babies, as are the aristocracies which often grow up under their patronage. Even the king-killer Oliver Cromwell made his son his heir as Lord Protector.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries British prime ministers came more often than not from the hereditary House of Lords rather than the elected Commons. Many prominent families also had control in constituencies effectively appointing family members as MPs.

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, the third Marquess of Salisbury, was the last prime minister to govern from the Lords, finally ending his third term in 1902. The keen meritocrat Ian Woolridge points out that the phrase “Bob’s your uncle” dates from Salisbury’s efforts ensuring that his nephew, Arthur Balfour MP was the next PM.

The Cecil family have rendered political services and held high offices at least since Queen Elizabeth I. The current Lord Salisbury, also named Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, was an MP and then a minister in John Major’s government.

He subsequently brokered the deal with New Labour, which kept seats in the House of Lords for a rump of hereditary peers, while drastically reducing their number. Viscount Cranbourn, the courtesy title by which he was then known, recused himself from standing to be one of the peers remaining in parliament.

It has not been, and nor will be, so easy to remove Westminster’s other nepo babies from their positions of power and influence, assuming that is what Meritocrats would like to do.

TV host Adam Hills holds mock surgery in Matt Hancock’s constituency while MP remains in the jungle | Ents & Arts News

The Last Leg host Adam Hills has held a mock political surgery in Matt Hancock’s constituency – but says people turned up with “genuine issues”.

The Australian TV presenter and comedian visited the town of Mildenhall on Sunday to allow the locals the chance to raise their concerns while the West Suffolk MP continues his controversial appearance on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!

Mr Hancock has faced strong criticism for appearing on the reality show and had the Tory whip suspended for joining at a time when Parliament is sitting.

Hills, 52, appeared on Good Morning Britain to speak about the fake public drop-in, which will be shown during Friday’s episode of his Channel 4 comedy talk show The Last Leg.

He said: “I tell you what, everybody turned up with a genuine issue. I was really surprised, I thought people would have comedy issues but no, people wanted better access to public transport, to dentists, to doctors, all that kind of stuff.

“This was the interesting thing, at the end of it, they all said, ‘We just want to be listened to’.

“That was the main thing, they said we just want Matt Hancock to come here and listen to us. It’s like a marriage, you just want the other person to listen to you.”

Hills agreed when co-host Richard Madeley suggested the mood was “more in sorrow than anger”.

'I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!' TV Show, Series 22, Australia - 12 Nov 2022
Bushtucker Trial - Who Wants To Look Silly On Air: Matt Hancock

12 Nov 2022

“Absolutely,” he said. “People aren’t angry, they just want their MP to turn up and listen to their concerns.”

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‘I find Hancock slimy and slippery’

He added: “A whole bunch of people said it would just be nice to get a response, we’ve sent emails, we’ve sent letters and when that response is, ‘I’m sorry, I’m eating a kangaroo’s penis in the Australian jungle right now’, that’s kind of not what they’re hoping for.”

Mr Hancock has previously stressed the first thing he will do after leaving the jungle will be to return to Suffolk and hold a surgery with his constituents.