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 Government has missed its 80% test and trace target for a tenth consecutive week, with more than 3 in 10 close contacts of people testing positive for COVID-19 not being contacted.

Responding, Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Munira Wilson said: “With children going back to school, the priority has to be keeping people safe. Instead, Ministers have failed to deliver a comprehensive strategy to test, trace and isolate every case of coronavirus.

“It is utterly unacceptable. The public deserves to know what is going wrong. That’s why the Liberal Democrats are calling for an independent inquiry to be launched now so we can learn lessons to prevent further spread of the virus.”

9. Labour has described the reported appointment of Tony Abbott to the UK’s Board of Trade as “completely unacceptable” and urged the International Trade Secretary to reverse the decision. 

Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, Marsha de Cordova, has written to Liz Truss describing Abbott’s views as “offensive and outdated.” The letter also describes Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s defence of Abbott on Thursday as “deeply disturbing.” 

Abbott has previously characterised women as “housewives…they do the ironing” and suggested that two female politicians were suited for office because they had “sex appeal”. An opponent of same-sex marriage, Abbott has also been accused of a series of homophobic remarks, including that it was a “fact of life” that “many people” feel threatened by the LGBT community.

De Cordova’s letter criticises Truss for refusing to condemn Abbott’s remarks in the Commons on Thursday. The letter goes on, “nor have you condemned Mr Abbott’s track record of other offensive and inflammatory statements, towards Muslims, immigrants and indigenous Australians.”

8. Extinction Rebellion activists protested at Westminster’s Tufton Street – home of many right-wing tanks – to target organisations that are ‘worsening the climate and ecological emergency through oil-money-backed lobbying’.

Some organisations based at 55 and 57 Tufton Street have become synonymous with climate science denial, including the UK’s principal climate science denial group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, launched in 2009 by Nigel Lawson and Benny Peiser and advised by climate skeptic and Tory peer Viscount Matthew Ridley.

It also includes the Centre for Policy Studies, whose deputy chair is Sir Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs.

The action came on the day that Caroline Lucas tables the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, which calls for a Citizens’ Assembly on the Climate and Ecological Emergency, speakers will call on MPs to back the bill.

Speaking by video to support the action last week, comedian and author Stephen Fry said: “It’s sickening how much money is being spent on think tanks and professional lobbyists to spread confusion, lies and doubt on the subject of man-made climate change and its horribly real threat.

“These people and their huge corporations funding them are utilising exactly the same playbook that big tobacco used to sow doubt and confusion over the clear scientific evidence that emerged about smoking. The truth will always out in the end though.”

7. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of people believe the government should do more to tackle inequality, according to polling carried out by Opinium for the think-tank Compassion in Politics.

This includes half (49%) of Conservative voters. Nearly one in five (22%) Conservative party supporters admitting the government needs to do “much more” to upend inequality.

Co-Director of Compassion in Politics Jennifer Nadel said: “The Government should take note. Very few get the opportunity to redesign the economy, but Covid has afforded that chance to this administration. Their priorities must now be the public’s health and wellbeing and making good their commitment to “level up” the national economy.”

6. The Lib Dems have introduce a Bill calling on the Government to offer indefinite leave to remain to foreign nationals currently working in the health and social care sectors.
 
Home Affairs Spokesperson Christine Jardine, who is moving the Ten Minute Rule Bill, has warned it is unacceptable that people who put their lives on the line during Covid-19 should not be welcome to stay.

The Bill has cross-party backing, with some MPs from Labour, the Conservatives, the SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru, the DUP and Alliance backing it.
 
Christine Jardine MP said: “Foreign nationals in the NHS have been on the frontline in protecting us from Covid-19, putting themselves at risk and in many cases paying the ultimate price.
 
“Their skills have been vital to all of us throughout this crisis. The least we can do now is to offer them the opportunity to stay and the security of knowing what their future holds.

5. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has called for the government to ensure companies publish their coronavirus risk assessments, as ministers push workers to return to the office.

In an interview with Times Radio, O’Grady said: “Sadly there are some cowboys out there and that’s one of the reasons why we were arguing with government: require companies to publish those health and safety risk assessments so staff and the whole community can see for ourselves whether employers are taking this seriously.

“Now the Government has said it would expect employers to publish their health and safety risk assessments. Frankly, very few have. I think it’s time that the government said, “that’s not just a request, that’s a requirement.”

4. A leaked document setting out the UK government’s post-Brexit ‘Internal Market’ proposals confirm Tory plans to overrule the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament and “deliver the biggest raid on devolution since 1999,” the SNP has warned.

The proposed legislation sets out devolved areas that could be under threat from a ‘Tory power grab’, including key areas such as food safety, minimum pricing, environmental policy and animal health and welfare – with health campaigners, farmers and groups across Scotland already setting out their opposition to the plans.

Earlier, the Scottish Parliament overwhelmingly voted to reject the UK government’s plans by 92 votes to 31, with the Tories isolated.Ian Blackford MP, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said: “The leaked pictures confirm what we have been warning about since these proposals first emerged – the Tories are preparing to overrule the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament and are laying the groundwork for the biggest raid on devolution since 1999.”

“Despite the decisive rejection from the Scottish Parliament – the Tories are intent on undermining devolution and continuing with their power grab plans,” he said.

3. Plaid Cymru has criticised the Government’s ‘Kickstart Scheme’ which funds employers to create job placements for 16 to 24 year olds.

Under current requirements, applications to the Department for Work and Pension scheme must be for a minimum of 30 job placements. Smaller businesses are required to partner with other organisations to reach the minimum number.

The Welsh nationalist party says that businesses employing fewer than 9 people make up 95% of all businesses in Wales and will therefore be unable to directly access the scheme.

Hywel Williams MP said: “Small businesses employing fewer than 9 people make up 95% of all businesses in Wales and are the backbone of our economy. After having disproportionately suffered during the pandemic, they will yet again lose out while the Tories give a leg up to their friends in big business.

“If the UK Government are serious about kickstarting the economy, it must direct its support to those entrepreneurial small businesses that sustain our communities.”

2. New statistics published by the Scottish Government show non-UK nationals make up 7.2 per cent of Scotland’s population but 8.3 per cent of Scotland’s workforce.

They represent 8.2 per cent of the health and care workforce and 7.5 per cent of all those deemed ‘key workers’ by the ONS.

Scottish Greens culture and external affairs spokesperson Ross Greer MSP said: “From the nasty victim-blaming of those risking their lives on the channel, to the human cost of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment policy’, to the way EU nationals have been treated throughout the Brexit shambles, these are dark times for UK discussions on immigration. Yet as always, the statistics tell a different story.

“Those who have chosen to make Scotland their home have not only made a huge cultural contribution, they have sustained key sectors of the economy and public services like our NHS. With an ageing population and our historic problems with depopulation, immigration is quite simply essential for Scotland.”

1. Unite, the UK’s principal aviation union, has reacted with ‘deep concern’ following reports that Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) is to begin the formal process of firing and rehiring workers on vastly inferior pay and conditions – a process that mirrors the recent dispute at BA.  

Reports on Wednesday suggested that the company has issued a formal section 188 notice to begin a consultation process which would result in workers being fired and rehired on inferior contracts.

The action of Heathrow airport follow negotiations between HAL and Unite last month on the company’s proposals to cut pay by 24 per cent for some workers, slash allowances, impose inferior conditions and to also close the company pension scheme.

Unite the union is currently formally putting the proposals to the workforce in a consultative ballot.

Unite regional co-ordinating officer Wayne King said: “HAL’s actions are extremely unhelpful and further undermine confidence in the industry.

“Our members have worked tirelessly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. To conduct industrial relations via the media in such a brutish manner is designed to create fear and panic in a group of key workers. HAL’s actions have made already difficult negotiations even more fraught.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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