BBC News (2015)

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Barclay A.A. Stanley
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BBC News (2015)

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Lt. Col. Sir Barclay A.A. Stanley, Rtd., KBE
Member of Parliament for Macclesfield

Armed with nothing but a pint of gin, Sir Barclay went to battle against the forces of Communism, Socialism, and Liberalism.
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Queen's Speech 2015: wealth redistribution, deficit reduction, and constitutional reform
July 2015

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The Queen delivers her speech in the House of Lords.

LONDON - "An end to austerity" is the overwhelming message of the Queen's Speech 2015, the first such speech presented by a Labour government since 2009.

It also includes promises on wealth redistribution, eliminating the deficit, refugee policy, tuition fees, childcare, and significant constitutional reform, primarily involving extending the franchise and further devolution to Scotland and Wales. Other key provisions of the speech include:
  • The establishment of a National Infrastructure Bank
  • Repealing and replacing the Universal Credit
  • Nationalisation of the rail, mail, and energy sectors
  • Ending zero hour contracts
  • Retaining and renewing the nuclear deterrent
  • Increasing housing supply and expanding rights for renters
The proposed laws are a healthy mix of policies promised by Labour during the general election and policies that go significiantly beyond what was promised in the manifesto. A running campaign by the Conservative Party has called for Labour not to go beyond its manifesto commitments.

Notable changes that move beyond the manifesto include broad commitments to nationalisation of industries, the repeal of tuition fees, repealing the Universal Credit, ending tax reliefs for private school tuition, and taking in 100,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament.

Some policies, such as the declaration of a climate emergency, are likely to be popularly received, with many interested in seeing what their implementation means. Uniquely, the government has proposed a number of budgetary measures with specific figures attached - boxing them in to set spending commitments over the coming Parliament. One such commitment is a pledge to boost spending on homelessness by £1 billion annually.

Analysis by Laura Kuenssberg

"This is perhaps the most unusual Queen's Speech for an incoming government since the war. The glare of the spotlight on the leadership campaign and the election of Will Black as Prime Minister has exposed a fundamental tension between the manifesto Ed Miliband ran on and the ambitions of an empowered left-wing represented by the Chancellor, Lenny Wood. The left wants to go above and beyond the manifesto, and this has made people who voted for the incoming party unprecedentedly uneasy. The Queen's Speech is always a balancing act, but the stakes are much higher this time. We'll see the Conservatives eager to seize on every commitment - and there are a fair few - that could be seen as a u-turn this close to the election. For Labour, the challenge is to appease the two Lens while not disappointing their voters. Those are unenviable odds. I can't see many people wanting to be in the PM's shoes tomorrow."
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CBI chief cautions government over economic plans
July 2015

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CBI Director General John Cridland.

LONDON - The chief of the Confederation of British Industry cautioned the government over their economic plans, which he noted go beyond what the Labour Party offered in the 2015 manifesto. "I am worried that we see a government that is actively hostile to growth and industry," said Mr Cridland in a statement.

Mr Cridland pointed specifically to the language on redistribution, the rapid push to a national living wage, plans to scrap Universal Credit, and taking numerous industries into public ownership. "This is, at best, a radical departure from the policies that brought the British economy back to growth. It is an unheard of level of state intervention that the current economic picture does not justify."

Data released by the CBI suggested that members were more tentative about making long-term investments in the coming years. A CBI report noted that there is a great deal of apprehension regarding the fiscal plans that will be announced by the new government. "Our members need reassurance that they will not be facing a harsh investment environment...or an environment that favours nationalisation," said a CBI release on the data collected from members.

BBC business reporter Aaron Heslehurst commented on the story saying, "The CBI were expecting a shift with a Labour government. It's clear that they weren't expecting a shift to this degree. Sources within the group say that they hope to see the government strike more of a conciliatory tone on economic matters and, most notably, 'not put the recovery at risk'. Naturally a great many eyes will remain on the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the months ahead."
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Power outages in South-eastern England cause disruption to many
October 2015


ISLE OF GRAIN - This evening, South East England residents were subject to sporadic power outages, plunging thousands of homes without power for short periods throughout the evening.

With high winds forecast, the grid decided to generate power through its renewable off-shore wind assets. However, this wind didn't arrive, and coupled with a unit trip at a traditional gas-fired power station in the area, demand far outstripped supply - causing power cuts in local areas. The more obvious problem was that not enough energy was being provided to the grid to satisfy demand. However, the use of renewable energy has other problems when it comes to energy supply.

The larger power stations, typically fossil-based, are useful to the grid for two reasons: they provide the grid's power and provide inertia. Intertia is generated through the turbine's rotation within a power station unit, but its purpose is not widely known outside of generation circles. The rotating turbines allow the generation units to match the grid's frequency to match sudden changes in demand. The turbines found in fossil-fuel based power stations tend to be much larger and generate more power. Thus, once they get going, even if the unit trips, it will keep moving for a certain time, giving some resilience to matching electricity demand.

The problem with renewables is that the turbines aren't as large and when the wind stops blowing, so do the turbines and almost instantly. The level of inertia generated is much, much lower than that of their fossil-fuel based counterparts. This means that renewable energy is somewhat inflexible to sudden changes in grid frequency and energy demand.

Renewables present a new challenge to the energy infrastructure across the country. Taking the rug out from fossil-fuel-based energy generation comes at the cost of potentially destabilizing the energy supply if not done correctly. Sadly, we still rely considerably on fossil-fuel-based generation mainly because of their ability to generate large amounts of electricity and inertia alongside to match the grid's demands. Renewables don't have the capacity - or at least they aren't currently in use at the capacity - to provide reliable inputs to our energy infrastructure. The transition away from fossil fuels will be a challenge for lawmakers who are under pressure internationally to reduce carbon footprints and focus more on renewable fuels to generate energy.
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Government passes bill to lower the voting age to 16
October 2015

WESTMINSTER - The Government has today received Royal Assent on the legislation to reduce the minimum voting age across the UK for elections and referendum to 16, paving the way for 16 & 17-year-olds to participate for the first time. The legislation was promised in the Labour Party manifesto, and the vote went broadly down party lines.

This moves England in line with Scotland who already had the minimum age of 16 for elections to the Scottish Parliament, and brings the voting age to 16 for all elections to the House of Commons and, therefore, General Elections. The devolved administrations of Wales to the Senedd and Northern Ireland to Stormont still can decide their voting laws, meaning the potential for disparities may occur between national and regional elections if they do not follow suit.

Across the world, 18 is the predominant age used as a threshold to voting. Other major counties with enfranchise 16 & 17-year-olds in elections include Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, and Ecuador. The change is the first major change across the UK to electoral eligibility since 1969 and is being touted as a 'landmark moment' for campaigners.

The turnout amongst the 18-24 bracket in the last election stood at 44% of eligible voters. With that bracket now expanding, questions remain about the overall electorate's impact, which will come from these changes. For the Government, the job isn't done. The legislation has clauses promising reforms to the National Curriculum to ensure that pupils come out of school with a general awareness of the political system in a move that hopes to increase political participation for the youngest and age at which people are statistically least likely to vote in an election. The hope of the education alongside the legislation, campaigners say, is that it encourages younger people to participate in politics, and younger voters can bring a 'fresh perspective to many issues of the day.
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Re: BBC News (2015)

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IFS warns about limited "fiscal headroom" following budget
November 2015

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LONDON - The Institute for Fiscal Studies released their report on the government's budget today, noting that the Chancellor was loosening the fiscal taps responsibly while cautioning against diminished fiscal headroom in future years. "There were many tax increases that went above what was promised in the Labour manifesto, which IFS analysed before the election," said the IFS Director, "We are concerned that the government is rapidly exhausting the tax side of its fiscal policy options."

The government's budget included significant income tax increases, above the reintroduction of the 50p rate promised in the Labour manifesto. The upper bracket tax base was also significantly expanded - moving a record number of individuals into the top two income tax rates.

The tax increases were matched with near global spending increases, under the heading of ending austerity. "Labour chose to abandon plans for targeted austerity in order to balance the books and instead pursued broader spending increases across nearly all departments," said an IFS analysis. "If Labour is going to balance the budget, the spend side of the fiscal equation is going to be the next big target." The question facing the government will be what elements of national spending should be maintained.

There are general bins to be considered: pensions and social security, public services (such as health and education), foreign affairs, and business and community spending and investment (business, transport, communities, environment and energy). Labour pledged, in their manifesto, to be exceptionally tough on the pensions and social security side of the equation - a policy abandoned by the Chancellor. Other spending, such as public services, are vital to maintain in order to maintain the anti-austerity mantle.

"It remains to be seen how the government balances priorities moving forward. Something is going to have to give, whether that's on the tax side or the spend side," said the IFS Director. "It will be interesting, whatever happens. At any rate, there has to be a great deal of thought about what fiscal policy will look like going forward and what fiscal rules will be in place." The IFS intends to provide further analysis on all parties fiscal plans.
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Communicato data breach reveals 3 million customer details leaked.
December 2015

WESTMINSTER - The Prime Minister stated to the House of Commons today that the personal details, contact information and telephone numbers of 3 million of its customers, and 900,00 of which includes payment information, representing the most serious data breach of modern time.

Communicato is a mobile telephone network founded in 2011 and has around 5 million customers through their mobile phone contract business. They are focused on keeping prices low and have rapidly increased their market share versus other 'big' phone networks. They offer mobile phone contracts for handsets and for the provision of mobile phone services. They have recently applied to become an Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the UK to expand its business beyond mobile phone services. This application is still pending, but the Government have signalled their intention to decline this application following the data loss incident.

For customers of Communicato, the Security Services are said to have found the data being sold online and the Government have announced they will be contacting those affected by the data breach. Questions remain about the ethics of the company, who the Government have said were not honest in their obligations to report the breach in the first place to the Information Commissioners Office, the non-Governmental regulator tasked with upholding the terms of the Data Protection Act and data regulation in the United Kingdom.

Analysis:
Politics will always be behind the curve when it comes to keeping up with technology's ever-changing world. Ask a politician about the 'dark-web, and they might ask you to repeat the question. The key question facing those in the corridors of power is how they better go about regulating the data of emerging companies. It is clear from the prime minister's statement that the company has put profit over the safety of its data, so it might need to look into regulatory powers and increase the deterrent to these companies on getting it wrong.

The secondary question here is, does this pose a risk to Government data. The issue of cybercrimes is going to dominate the agenda following this incident. Still, even more, data can be leaked from Whitehall, should it ever escalate beyond that. Officials will likely be scrambling to ensure that their networks are secure, but often, even that isn't enough. The wrong employees with the wrong motivations are often the culprits in the private sector, stopping the same thing from happening in the public sector, where the stakes are notably higher. This issue ascends beyond technical security and into the realms of ethics in handling sensitive data and situations.
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Re: BBC News (2015)

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SAUDI AIRSTRIKES KILL CIVILIANS AND DOCTORS
January 2016

News from Saudi Arabia indicates that the coalition-led airstrike has tragically killed 5 Red-Cross doctors and 17 civilians amid a 'targetting error' by Saudi forces in Yemen, just outside the district of Taiz. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has condemned the error as 'inhumane' and has called upon the international community to pressure Saudi Arabia to explain themselves.

Sadly, this isn't the first occurrence of this during the Saudi-led Yemen intervention, with casualties occurring throughout 2015 but many going officially unreported by coalition-led forces. The US Department of Defence has strongly denied that any US assets were airborne of the time - absolving themselves of any responsibility for killing civilians in the country. None of the coalition nations - made up of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Sudan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco - generally comment on casualties. Still, at least 400 civilians, journalists and medical professionals have been killed in such airstrikes since the start of 2015, which represents a significant death toll. Critics call the deaths 'needless' and 'sickening' that the intervention is being allowed to continue without scrutiny from the wider international community.
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Re: BBC News (2015)

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Threat-to-life Flooding hits Yorkshire
January 2016

Following warnings from the Met Office, local residents and forecasters' worst fears became a reality this morning as lots of Yorkshire plunged under heavy flooding this morning when the rivers Calder, Trent, Aire, Ouse, Don burst their banks, with upto 50,000 residents at risk in what the met-office has described as threat-to-life areas. Previous warnings for East Anglia were downgraded.

To help with the evacuation prior to the rivers bursting their banks, the Territorial Army was deployed on the prime minister's orders to take many of those 50,000 residents to an area of safety, with military barracks, community centres, churches amongst places being used for shelter. The effects of flooding is set to be worse than what would typically be the case as the ground on many flood plains is frozen solid and will seldom absorb any water - presenting an even more dangerous prospect of violent water run-off.

Among surrounding villages, major cities such as York, Sheffield, Leeds and towns such as Doncaster, Castleford and Goole are amongst the worst affected with parts of York city-center starting to be cut off with the local drainage systems unable to cope with the sheer amount of rain, and the floodwater contributing to make quite literally the perfect storm.

Transport links are affected with areas of the East Coast Mainline already underwater. The Government has already stepped in to use emergency powers and suspended the services, meaning commuters are unable to use the service North of Retford and only travel as far south as Darlington from the North. Roads such as the M1 and M62 have been hit by severe flooding; travel is advised only in the 'most essential circumstances.

The Prime Minister spoke from the House of Commons promising to do everything it takes to help those worst affected and said that future protection is top of the Governments' agenda - promising new action on flood defences.

The level of rainfall hitting the North East is estimated to be around 3.5 months worth of precipitation in the space of 48 hours. This rainfall, combined with saturated ground and a high concentration of settlement near rivers and floodplains, represents the worst possible scenario for the region and could see the most devastating flooding in recent memory.
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Flooding leaves path of destruction in Yorkshire
February 2016

Yorkshire has faced the brunt of recent extreme weather in recent days, culminating in one of the worst-hitting floods in recent history. Areas of central and northern Yorkshire were the worst affected. The Met Office were very serious - saying that there was a threat-to-life - with their warnings before the storms hitting, combined with the frozen ground amid recent cold temperatures providing nowhere for floodwaters to go, or for run-off to be absorbed into the ground.

Sadly enough, the Met Offices' warnings were true. Thirty-four people sadly lost their lives in Yorkshire. In addition to fatalities, 9,700 homes were destroyed, with a further 15,000 suffering damage of varying degrees, causing large amounts of displacement across the county, with many seeking temporary accommodation. The Government has carried out the damage's economical cost and have provided a range between £450-550mn worth of property damage, proving an expensive few weeks for insurance companies, with some further complications. Around £200mn will not be covered under policies provided in some areas of Yorkshire as properties were built on known flood grounds - meaning the insurance policies covering flood damage do not apply. In response, the Government have indicated that they will make up this shortfall in funding and help the insurance companies payout to those in these areas to help them get back up on their feet. In addition to this £200mn, the Government has also announced £150mn of low-interest loans to insurance companies to assist with liquidity (which helps the insurance companies ensure timely payouts to customers). The full statement from the Chancellor on funding can be found here, courtesy of Parliament TV. viewtopic.php?f=58&p=3125#p3125

Some other headlines announced by the Government are:
  • £600mn of additional funding for flood defence
  • £250mn for emergency maintenance
  • Legislation introduced to help fix perceived shortcomings in the ability of the Government to respond to such events.
Analysis by Laura Kuenssberg:

According to one Council Leader, the consensus amongst local Government officials is that the response and assistance from Westminster "without a shadow of a doubt" helped reduce the death toll and, according to one Council Leader, minimise what could have been much worse. The Government has responded with funding that local councils were desperate for and responded with the Army Reserves' deployment to help with mass evacuation efforts of some 50,000 residents as the flood warnings came thick and fast from the Met Office. These events seemed to prove that the country can predict the events in advance, but local areas are not as prepared, but the Government has taken swift action to address these concerns.
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