Radical roundup: 10 stories that got buried this week

Left Foot Forward's roundup of the progressive news you might have missed.

In no particular order… PS: Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. The UK Government must abandon plans to introduce an effective veto over the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Greens have said.

Hidden in its White Paper on the ‘UK internal market’, the UK Government proposes to impose sweeping new laws to reserve the right to veto any devolved decision which threatens their free market fundamentalism, or isn’t in the interest of big business. This could be applied retrospectively.

Although Conservative politicians have previously claimed that various devolved policies are safe, the White Paper proposes that “a uniform approach is key to our ability to remain a competitive economy”, which presents a serious threat to devolved commitments on environmental protections, food standards and public ownership.

Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie has written to Business Secretary Alok Sharma demanding that these plans go back to the drawing board, with a commitment to protect the Scottish Parliament’s democratic authority. Commenting, Patrick Harvie said: “Close cooperation between governments is essential, but these proposals aren’t merely a power grab, they call into question the very notion of devolution itself.

9. The Lib Dems responded to the news the Government has dropped plans for a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission.

Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Political Reform, Wendy Chamberlain, said: “Given the widespread fears that this Commission was going to be used as a vehicle for Boris Johnson to attack the judiciary and slash checks and balances on his own powers, the fact it has been dropped is extremely welcome. 

“If this Government is serious about reviewing the workings of our democracy, then they should be committing to a fully transparent and independent process.

“Ministers must be prepared to put the real issues on the table. Issues like whether the First Past the Post voting system is fit for purpose, and why we continue to unfairly disenfranchise 1.5million 16 and 17 year olds”.

8. Firefighters have agreed to continue aiding the coronavirus response, warning that the virus threat “remains serious” and despite the government’s easing of lockdown restrictions.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has assured the public that “firefighters aren’t going to abandon their communities now”, as preparations for a second wave of COVID-19 infections commence.

An agreement reached on 26 March has allowed firefighters to drive ambulances, deliver vital supplies to the elderly and vulnerable, and move the bodies of the deceased. 

Since then, a number of further activities have been agreed, including assembling personal protective equipment (PPE) and training care home staff in infection, prevention and control.

The FBU, fire chiefs, and fire service employers have agreed to extend the work until 30 September, six months longer than planned, with the possibility for further renewal. The initial agreement was for two months, but was extended in early June. 

7. Campaigners have warned that ‘time is running out’ for a Brexit deal.

Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith said: “Despite the hunger shown by the EU for a wide-reaching deal in these negotiations, the UK government seem to have much smaller ambitions. 

“Time is now running out. We need to see the UK government negotiating in good faith soon or citizens across Europe and in Britain will lose out.

“It is certainly the case that some forms of Brexit are better than others. A comprehensive trade deal would minimise the impact on business and employment. No deal, or a bare bones deal, would be a disaster for Britain in our current position.”

6. Over 200,000 people have signed a We Own It petition calling for the House of Lords to protect the NHS from trade deals by amending the Trade Bill.

The petition comes after the House of Commons voted against amendments to the Trade Bill on Monday that would have stopped the NHS from being included in trade deals. The House of Commons also voted against an amendment from Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly which would have given MPs the power to accept or reject trade deals negotiated by the government.

According to campaigners, the Trade Bill as currently worded would pose a range of dangers for the health service, opening up the NHS to being charged more for drugs, enshrine the rights of American healthcare companies to access our NHS in international treaties and “lock in” privatisation that would be incredibly difficult for a future government to reverse.

5. Outsourced cleaners at Ark Globe Academy have won a ‘stunning victory’ this week, after it was announced that they would receive the London Living Wage, full pay sick pay in parity with directly employed Ark staff. Workers also won the immediate implementation of an enhanced Risk Assessment process from the 1st of September.

The announcement, made by the cleaners’ trade union, United Voices of the World (UVW), comes after a campaign which also demanded the immediate abolition of gender disparity in pay, trade union recognition, and an end to outsourcing at the academy. The union threatened strike action if its demands were not met.

The dispute began after workers staged a spontaneous walkout on the 4th and 5th of June in response to what their union has described as months of unlawful wage deductions and fears over a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or a meaningful Risk Assessment having been carried out. The outsourced cleaning firm Ridge Crest came under fire after a regional manager was recorded telling a strike leader that she could: “Pick you up some masks from the office and drop them into you…and it means everybody goes back and gets rid of the union” and that “I just wanna shut the union down”. LFF covered the leaked recordings here.

4. A cross-party group of MPs have warned that there is a real risk that the worst effects of Covid-19 could fall on those who are least able to afford it in Wales, a nation whose economy was already vulnerable to economic shocks before the pandemic.

In their interim report on the Welsh economy and Covid-19 the Welsh Affairs Committee describes the impact that the virus has had to date on businesses and people throughout Wales. It also details support provided by both the UK and Welsh Governments, and focuses attention on some of the sectors at particular risk during the crisis.

Before the crisis Wales was ranked second to last in a list of 12 UK nations and regions for Gross Disposable Household Income and had a poverty rate of 23%. The nation also has the second highest levels of employment in sectors most exposed to the headwinds caused by virus countermeasures, namely retail, food and drink, and arts and leisure. There is a ‘perfect storm’ for a post-Covid rise in poverty, the Welsh Affairs Committee said.

3. A major public consultation to get a wide range of views on the prospect of an Irish border poll has been launched by a working group established by UCL’s Constitution Unit.

Citizens and civil society groups from across Northern Ireland are being invited to share their hopes, concerns and thoughts on the format and conduct of any future referendum on the question of Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.

A referendum on Irish unification is envisaged in certain circumstances by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is obliged to call such a vote if a majority for a united Ireland appears likely.

Recent developments may have increased the chances that this condition could be met in the coming years. Yet no detailed public thinking has been done on what form the vote could take.

2. The SNP has said the Dominic Cummings scandal continues to erode public trust in the Tory government – after England’s Chief Nursing Officer confirmed she was dropped from a coronavirus briefing after raising concerns about the senior Tory adviser’s rule-breaking.

Asked about lockdown rules and the actions of Dominic Cummings at the Public Accounts Committee, Ruth May confirmed she was dropped from the briefing and said “I believe the rules were clear and they were there for everyone’s safety. They applied to us all.”

Commenting, SNP Westminster Deputy Leader Kirsten Oswald MP said: “The Dominic Cummings scandal continues to erode public trust in the Tory government – after Boris Johnson refused to take any action against his rule-breaking senior adviser.

“This latest revelation, that the Chief Nursing Officer was dropped from a public health briefing, after expressing legitimate concerns that the rules must apply to us all, shows just how far the Tories are willing to go to cover-up concerns and avoid taking any responsibility for their actions.”

1. Housing campaigners Generation Rent have called on the Government to urgently explain how new rules replacing the eviction ban will protect renters affected by coronavirus.

The housing campaign group has written to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC MP with a list of questions the Government must answer to give clarity to renters under threat of eviction. The Government is allowing evictions to restart from 23 August with new civil procedure rules.

The new rules are inadequate, Generation Rent say. It is unclear how they will work in practice and will provide any protection for renters struggling to pay their rent due to covid-19.

“The Government needs to urgently explain how the new rules will deliver on their pledge that no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home,” the group said in a statement.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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