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Labour's victories show importance of localism and positive vision

10 May 2021

A meme did the rounds on Saturday morning that offered a theory of why Labour had done so badly in the local elections.

It read: “Labour: a bunch of rich people convincing poor people to vote for rich people by telling poor people that ‘other’ rich people are the reason they are poor.”

It may be true that any attacks Labour launched on expensive Tory tastes in interior design did not seem to put voters off. As one voter in Teesside told the FT last week: “Boris deserves nice curtains given what he’s been through with Covid.”

But look at where Labour did well – Wales, Greater Manchester, the Liverpool city region, Preston – and you can see that where the party led with conviction, promoting a positive vision for their local area, it was rewarded at the ballot box.

Some of the more significant signs of green shoots for Labour were in southern England. The former MP Dan Norris was elected mayor for the West of England, taking the seat from the Conservative incumbent with 59.5% of the vote. In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Labour’s Nik Johnson took the seat from the Conservatives with 51.3% of the vote.

In contrast to the results in “red wall” areas of England, Norris said Starmer had “unlocked this election” in the Bristol region and that he felt Labour was still the party of the working class.

In Preston, where the Labour administration has pioneered a form of localism known as the Preston model, it retained all 10 seats it was defending. The idea is simple: the council keeps money as close to home as possible so that the amount spent locally goes up. Where other authorities privatised, Preston has grown its own businesses and created worker-owned co-operatives.

In the Liverpool city region, where Steve Rotheram has led a skills- and digital-based agenda, he was rewarded with an only slightly reduced vote share – a minor miracle given the corruption investigation that engulfed Liverpool city council in recent months.

He can justifiably claim a strong personal vote. According to his team, his final result of 58.2% of the vote, just one percentage point down on 2017, was 12% up on Labour’s overall vote share in the local council elections across the city region on Thursday.

Labour’s strong performance in Wales also shows “the importance of being in power and doing stuff”, tweeted former Labour MP Caroline Flint, who lost her Don Valley seat in 2019. “Their success is a reflection on how the pandemic has been handled: focus on matters people care about and still deep ties with communities,” she added.

In Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham won a huge victory and the “sensible socialist” mayor of Salford, Paul Dennett, increased his vote share to 59%, a 10% increase on his first preference performance in 2016.

In his victory speech, Dennett said he had bucked the national trend with a “message of hope and optimism”. He said he had tried to influence Salford’s growth “to ensure it benefits the residents who live here”, bringing services back to the council and building social housing once more – “something many people told us was impossible”.

He criticised Labour nationally for lacking an industrial strategy for the red wall. “Instead, we embraced the new global economy of finance and services – bleeding yet more life out of the towns where our voters traditionally came from.”

He asked Keir Starmer to “look not only to Salford but to Greater Manchester under the leadership of Andy Burnham,” saying: “There is a path Labour can take, which unites our traditional voters with young, and new voters.”

Antonia Jennings, the associate director of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, said: “While nationally the picture has been grim for Labour, where we have seen them put forward candidates that are locally rooted and promoting community wealth-building programmes (eg Preston, Salford), they’ve been successful.”

She said it was right for the opposition to point out the government’s failures in the pandemic, but that you could not win on negativity alone. “People aren’t going to vote for you because you are a good critic. You’ve got to have something to say and you need to offer an alternative.”

(Credit to Helen Pidd of The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/may/08/labours-victories-show-importance-of-localism-and-positive-vision)

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Partygate — timeline of a Downing Street scandal

Vomiting, partying until 4am, and staff hoping they’d “got away with it” — Sue Gray’s long-awaited report contains scandalous new details about 16 alleged boozy events across Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown. Here is a look back at how the events unfolded.

May 15, 2020: Johnson and Matt Hancock attend an alleged cheese and wine party in the Downing Street garden

The first of Gray’s newly-uncovered lockdown parties comes before all those we knew about already. According to the report, the PM and former Health Secretary Matt Hancock attend a cheese and wine party in the garden of Downing Street, with proceedings lasting for roughly 40 minutes. Gray says Johnson “brought cheese and wine from his flat” but points out that the “gathering was actually a number of separate meetings” and concludes they were for work matters.

Covid restrictions at the time: Full national lockdown, people in England are barred from their homes unless there is a “reasonable excuse”.

May 20, 2020: No 10 allegedly throws a BYOB party in the Downing Street garden

The Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, allegedly invites as many as 100 people to “socially distanced” drinks, writing in an email: “After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening.” He does, however, warn that it would be “helpful” if people avoided “walking around with bottles of wine” ahead of the party as it was taking place after a press conference, according to the Sue Gray report. The Prime Minister reportedly attends for 25 minutes before returning to his office, along with his then-fiancée Carrie Symonds, who has drinks with Michael Gove’s then-adviser Henry Newman.

Gray’s findings showed the party lasting all evening until 11pm, with drinks and pizza provided and paid for by staff. A senior official reportedly jokes about the risk of drone surveillance (an admission that rules were being broken?) and there are official complaints about the state of the garden afterwards. Later, Reynolds messages a special adviser saying: “Best of luck - a complete non story but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with).”

June 18, 2020: The Cabinet Office hosts a leaving do for an unnamed official with pizza, prosecco (and a bust-up)

A leaving do for an unnamed official takes place in No 10 and the Cabinet Office between 6pm and 9pm on June 18, with officials reportedly eating pizza and drinking prosecco. Gray has uncovered an email by one official calling the event “drinks that aren’t drinks” and texts warning that a party “comes with rather substantial comms risks”. It goes ahead anyway. Roughly 20 people are understood to attend, including former deputy Cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara, who provides a karaoke machine. “There was excessive alcohol consumption by some individuals,” Gray reports. “One individual was sick. There was a minor altercation between two other individuals.”

Covid restrictions at the time: Social gatherings indoors are forbidden, people are allowed to meet outside in groups of no more than six

June 19, 2020: Boris Johnson reportedly attends a “surprise” birthday party thrown by his wife at No 10

The Prime Minister reportedly attends a party in Downing Street to celebrate his 56th birthday, thrown by his now-wife Carrie Johnson between 2.25pm and 2.45pm. A source says staff are emailed in advance with a plea to come to the cabinet room and “wish the prime minister happy birthday”. Around 30 people attend the gathering, which takes place just before Boris Johnson is due to chair a Covid strategy meeting about the route out of lockdown. He is said to be presented with a Union Jack cake, while Carrie leads staff to sing him Happy Birthday. Johnson, his wife Carrie and Sunak are all later fined £50 for attending the event.

November 13, 2020: Johnson attends Lee Cain’s leaving party and later plays ABBA music in his flat

This is the event you’ll probably recognise from recent pictures. Images released by ITV News this week show Johnson standing smiling in front of a roomful of staff, raising a toast, with empty wine bottles littering the table in front of him. Notably, it is the same day Downing Street announces that two of the prime minister’s most senior advisers, Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, would leave Government. The pictures are laid out in Gray’s report and were reportedly taken inside No 10 to celebrate Cain’s departure. “There was a leaving speech and drinks in No 10 for Lee Cain later that day, which the prime minister attended,” her report concludes. Gray says a second party took place that night: this time in Johnson’s Downing Street flat , with Abba music - specifically the song The Winner Takes It All - heard blaring from the windows. She is not investigating this event, however, because of the Met’s separate inquiry.

Covid restrictions at the time: A second national lockdown. People are ordered to stay at home and different households are banned from mixing indoors or in private gardens, unless in a support bubble

December 10, 2020: Gavin Williamson throws a party for Department for Education staff

Gavin Williamson reportedly throws a party for two dozen of his Department for Education staff while London is under Tier 2 restrictions, banning social mixing between households. The former education secretary reportedly delivers a speech and there are drinks and canapes in the department’s café. “There were lots of people gathered in the café area, mingling and drinking wine. It was just so reckless,” a source has since told the Mirror. Gray’s report confirms this. “The Secretary of State for Education wanted to thank staff for their hard work ahead of the Christmas break,” she says. “Senior officials and special advisers attended the event. There was food and alcohol available and it lasted for around an hour.”

Covid restrictions at the time: Tier 2 (‘high alert’), no mixing of households indoors, but people can meet outdoors in groups of six - they can meet their friends at a pub, but only if it’s serving substantial meals. Last orders are at 10pm, with bars and pubs ordered to close by 11pm. Self-employed workers and freelancers without an office or other workplace who have a meeting that needs to be held face-to-face can meet a contact for a business lunch.

December 15, 2020: Tobias Ellwood attends a Christmas party in Piccadilly and Downing Street hosts a quiz

Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood attends a “Christmas party” for 27 guests at the Cavalry and Guards Club in Piccadilly. He reportedly makes a speech at the Iraq Britain Business Council event, which is described on the organisers’ website as a “Christmas party”. Meanwhile, a quiz is reportedly taking place in Downing Street. “The quiz and prize-giving lasted approximately three and a half hours,” Gray finds. Her report also uncovers a message sent by a No 10 official on internal No 10 systems referring to “drunkenness” and advising staff to leave No 10 via the back exit. The No10 official informed the investigation team that they did this in order to avoid staff being photographed by the press outside, Gray adds.

December 17, 2020: The Cabinet Office ‘Christmas party’ and two leaving dos at Downing Street

Two gatherings take place on the same night in No 10 to mark the departure of two No 10 officials, says Gray. But while they might have started separately, officials later join together to eat pizza and drink late into the evening. “A leaving event for two No 10 officials took place in No 10 in the Pillared Room,” says Gray. “There were speeches, including from the prime minister and senior officials, and alcohol. Approximately 20 people attended.” Reports have also emerged of a separate gathering in the Cabinet Office that night, organised by Case’s team. The event is noted in digital calendars as “Christmas party!” and includes an online quiz. “A virtual quiz took place in the Cabinet Secretary’s private office for staff who were in the office and working at home that day,” says Gray. “Alcohol and food were consumed during the quiz which lasted approximately 90 minutes in total.”

Covid restrictions at the time: Tier 3 (‘very high alert’), no mixing indoors with anyone outside your household or support bubble, six people allowed to mix in some outdoor public places

December 18, 2020: Downing Street allegedly hosts a Christmas party

An alleged staff party takes place in Downing Street. The gathering is organised on a WhatsApp group and “several dozen” staff - some wearing Christmas jumpers - are asked to bring in Secret Santa presents. The report states that food and alcohol were available and some members of staff drank excessively. A cleaner who attended the room the next morning noted that there had been red wine spilled on one wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper. According to a previous report in the Daily Mirror, party games are played and food and drinks are served at the party, with revelries going on past midnight. At the time, the Tier 3 rules explicitly ban work Christmas lunches and parties where it is “a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted”. According to Gray, officials and advisers reportedly make speeches, enjoy a cheese board, drink together and exchange Secret Santa gifts. The prime minister does not attend.

December 25, 2020: Carrie Johnson’s friend Nimco Ali spends Christmas with the Johnsons

The Johnsons’ friend Nimco Ali, a prominent FGM campaigner and godmother to their son Wilfred, reportedly spends Christmas with the Johnsons at Downing Street at a time when lockdown restrictions in London prevent almost all household mixing. Government rules state that it is possible for people to use a childcare bubble on 25 December, even in areas under the highest tier, “but only if reasonably necessary for the purposes of childcare and where there are no reasonable alternatives”.

Covid restrictions at the time: Tier 4 in London and the south-east, people must stay at home and not mix indoors with anyone from outside their household. They are only allowed to leave the house for specific purposes or if they have a “reasonable excuse” and can only meet one person outdoors.

January 14, 2021: Downing Street hosts more leaving drinks

Yet another set of leaving drinks uncovered by Gray. This time, to celebrate the departure of two private secretaries who remain unnamed in the report, one of whom worked in the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. “The prime minister attended for a short time to give a leaving speech. Alcohol was available,” says Gray.

Covid restrictions at the time: Another national lockdown. People are only allowed to leave their homes for a few specific reasons, such as shopping for basic necessities and exercising with their household or support bubble

April 16, 2021: Downing Street hosts two leaving dos on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral

The night before the Queen sat alone at the funeral of her late husband, in compliance with Covid rules, Downing Street reportedly hosts not one but two leaving dos for staff, with people leaving until as late as 4.20am. The No 10 entry logs show that a number of people leave No 10 at this point. They are encouraged by the custodian to use the rear exit of the building, says Gray.

Covid restrictions at the time: People can only mix indoors with their household or support bubble. They can meet indoors, including in gardens, in groups of six people or two households

October 18, 2021: Downing Street defends the Johnsons hosting friend Nimco Ali over Christmas

Reports that Ali spent Christmas with the Johnsons are revealed in Harper’s magazine, which claims she “spent Christmas with the couple at No 10 despite pandemic restrictions on holiday gatherings.” Both Number 10 and the Prime Minister’s spokesperson refuse to confirm whether Ali stayed with them, but deny that the couple broke their own coronavirus rules. “The PM and Mrs Johnson have followed coronavirus rules at all times. It is totally untrue to suggest otherwise,” the PM’s spokeswoman says.

November 30, 2021: Reports emerge of the Downing Street Christmas party in December 2020

Almost a year after the alleged events, the Daily Mirror accuses Boris Johnson and his Downing Street staff of breaking Covid rules by attending parties at Number 10 in the build-up to Christmas 2020. According to the exclusive report, Johnson gave a speech at a “packed leaving do” for a top aide during the second lockdown last November, and there was a smaller gathering on November 13, the night Dominic Cummings left Downing Street, “where [staff] were all getting totally plastered”.

The Mirror also alleges that a festive bash was held in Downing Street the following month, just days before Christmas, with around “40 or 50” staffers drinking wine and taking part in a Christmas quiz and Secret Santa. According to a source quoted in the newspaper, staffers were crammed “cheek by jowl” into a medium-sized room in Number 10. “It was a Covid nightmare,” one source tells the Mirror.

December 7, 2021: Footage is leaked of a mock Downing Street press conference in December 2020

A video obtained by ITV News shows the Prime Minister’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton answering questions at a mock press conference on December 22, 2020 about a party the previous Friday – the date of the alleged Covid rule-breaking gathering. Advisor Ed Oldfield is heard asking Stratton: “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?” One aide is heard saying: “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine.” “Is cheese and wine all right? It was a business meeting,” Stratton replies, to laughter in the room. Stratton then notes “this is recorded”, adding: “This fictional party was a business meeting … and it was not socially distanced.”

The Met confirms it will examine the leaked footage of aides joking about the party and Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer leads urges for Johnson to “come clean and apologise”. Meanwhile Downing Street denies the party ever happened. “There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times,” a spokesman says.

May 25, 2022: Sue Gray finally publishes her long-awaited partygate report, uncovering 16 events in total

Finally, the day reporters have been waiting for and the PM will have been dreading - especially since he recently asked Gray to ditch the report altogether, according to reports. Downing Street denies this suggestion, saying the pair only discussed “process” at a recent meeting, but either way the PM certainly won’t have welcomed the scandalous new details uncovered in Gray’s findings, released late this morning.

Vomiting, partying until 4am, and WhatsApping about “getting away” with rule-breaching parties are among the most shocking details to emerge so far. Johnson says he takes “full responsibility” and will hold a press conference in the wake of the report. So will the latest developments prove to be the PM’s final undoing or will he ride it out, as he has so far? The coming hours, days and weeks will surely tell.

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Labour staff under investigation for false statements

A small number of Labour staff members are reported to be under investigation for making false statements to the Durham Constabulary.

It is understood that numerous staff members installed in Labour's Southside HQ following the 2017 election and remaining in post following the leadership transition are being investigated for making false statements surrounding the "Beergate" investigation. Recently uncovered messages turned over to police suggest that some staff members may have deliberately overstated the events that occurred at the Durham Miner's Hall in an attempt to ensure that Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner received fixed penalty notices.

A source within the Labour Party shared a series of congratulatory messages shared via WhatsApp lauding an effort to remove Mr Starmer as leader of the Labour Party via "any means necessary" as having "finally succeeded following our efforts with DC". DC is believed to stand for Durham Constabulary.

During the "Beergate" investigation there were rumours that certain Labour staff members were leaking documents that were potentially damaging to Mr Starmer and Ms Rayner's claims that it was a legitimate work event. Those reports were unsubstantiated at the time but may take on new meaning as an investigation launches.

An ally of Keir Starmer commented that "some adherents of Jeremy Corbyn have been determined to tear down Keir's leadership from the day that he was elected. That fact that they stooped to potentially committing a crime to do so is astounding, but not altogether shocking."

Both Mr Starmer and Ms Rayner have indicated that they do not intend to contest the FPNs that they received in light of this new information. A spokesperson for Mr Starmer said "that would potentially change following the result of a second Durham Constabulary investigation."

A Labour Party spokesperson said that "We do not comment on individual investigations regarding staff members; however, we do insist that they cooperate fully with police in the event that an investigation is ongoing."

Durham Constabulary had no comment at the time of publication.

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Largest teaching union threatens to ballot members in England on strike action

National Education Union writes to the new education secretary Kemi Badenoch, calling for ‘inflation-plus’ pay rise

Leaders of the country’s largest teaching union say they will ballot their members on strike action later this year unless the government agrees to an “inflation-plus” pay rise.

The joint general secretaries of the National Education Union (NEU) said in a letter to the new education secretary, Kemi Badenoch, that they would campaign in favour of industrial action if the government persisted with the existing plan for a 3% pay increase for most teachers in England, after the latest figures showed the consumer price index rising 9.1% last month.

“You must respond to the new economic reality of double-digit inflation and the threat this poses to teacher living standards. We call on you to commit to an inflation-plus increase for all teachers,” the letter stated. “A clear and unambiguous signal that educators are valued, with undifferentiated inflation-plus pay increases for all teachers, is urgently needed. And you must fund schools accordingly.”

The letter argued that schools across England are reporting difficulty in retaining and recruiting staff, with teacher pay having fallen by a fifth in real terms since 2010 before this year’s increases in inflation. The NEU said that left teachers’ salaries at their lowest level compared with average earnings for more than 40 years. “Failing to recruit or retain enough teachers adds to the workload problems and highlights the damage caused by previous pay cuts, but the government plans more pay cuts and has not taken effective action on workload,” the NEU said.

The NEU’s letter follows a similar demand from the other major teaching union, the NASUWT, which earlier this week said it would hold a strike ballot if the government “does not deliver pay restoration for teachers”. Patrick Roach, the NASUWT general secretary, said: “If the government and the pay review body reject a positive programme of restorative pay awards for teachers, then we will be asking our members whether they are prepared to take national industrial action in response.”

Schools are waiting for the annual recommendation on teacher pay to be published by the independent School Teachers Review Body. In December, the then Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, formally requested that the body consider pay awards for 2022-23 and 2023-24 to raise the starting salary for teachers in England to £30,000. That would mean an 8.9% rise next year to minimum starting salaries but leave only a 3% or 2% rise for most teachers and school leaders. Ministers have previously said there will be no additional funding for school budgets to cover any pay increases.

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Nurses set to strike over pay

The RCN said the current pay award leaves an experienced nurse more than £1,000 worse off in real terms, describing it as "a national disgrace".

Nurses have voted to strike over pay, in the first walkout by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England and Wales in their over 100-year history.

The RCN announced that 84% of votes were in favour of action, on a turnout of 73%. The RCN also confirmed that it has increased its industrial action strike fund to £50m, up from £35m, to provide financial support towards lost earnings during strikes.

The college had called for a pay rise for nursing staff of 5% above RPI inflation, which is currently 11.8%, but have also suggested a deal matching the 12% pay rise offered by the government to teachers. The government had previously announced a pay award that the RCN said leaves an experienced nurse more than £1,000 worse off in real terms, describing it as "a national disgrace".

Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary, said: "Nursing staff will stop at nothing to protect their patients. Staff shortages are putting patient safety at risk and the government's failure to listen has left us with no choice but to take this action. A lifetime of service must never mean a lifetime of poverty. Ministers' refusal to recognise the skill and responsibility of the job is pushing people out of the profession. The government must change course urgently."

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