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Anti-Semitism used as factional weapon within Labour, says report

Labour's left and right wings both treated the issue of anti-Semitism as a "factional weapon" when Jeremy Corbyn was leader, a report says. Martin Forde QC's inquiry finds general "toxicity" existed between Mr Corbyn's office and staff at party HQ. And he says the opposing groups used the issue of anti-Semitism as a weapon during their arguments, rather than confront the issue. Complaints procedures have improved since but more work is needed, he adds.

Mr Forde's inquiry began in April 2020 after an 860-page dossier - dated March 2020 - was leaked. It contained private WhatsApp messages and claimed some Labour workers had not wanted Mr Corbyn, on the party's left, to win the 2017 general election and had hindered efforts to tackle anti-Semitism.

The dossier found "no evidence" of anti-Semitism being handled differently from other complaints and blamed "factional opposition" towards Mr Corbyn. But Mr Forde's report says factionalism was "endemic" within Labour and the issue of anti-Semitism was weaponised by both sides, not just the party's right. "The evidence clearly demonstrated that a vociferous faction in the party sees any issues regarding anti-Semitism as exaggerated by the right to embarrass the left," it says.

"It was of course also true that some opponents of Jeremy Corbyn saw the issue of anti-Semitism as a means of attacking him. Thus, rather than confront the paramount need to deal with the profoundly serious issue of anti-Semitism in the party, both factions treated it as a factional weapon."

The report also says Labour's disciplinary process was "not fit for purpose" and "potentially prone to factional interference". However, it adds that "many aspects of the party's recent reforms of disciplinary procedures" are a positive, and changes have been "generally steps in the right direction", although further work is needed.

The report also criticises a "culture of intellectual smugness which exists at the extremes of the political spectrum" of Labour opinion.

Responding to the findings, a Labour spokesperson said: "The Forde report details a party that was out of control. Keir Starmer made real progress in ridding the party of the destructive factionalism and unacceptable culture that did so much damage previously and contributed to our [general election] defeat in 2019. This progress will continue under the next leader."

In a statement, Mr Corbyn said that many in Labour had found it "hard to come to terms" with his "overwhelming" election as leader in 2015. "In any party there are groups and factions, but the resistance we were faced with went far beyond that," he added. Mr Corbyn also said the Forde report showed Labour needed to "decide what it is for. Are we a democratic socialist party, run by members and affiliated unions, that aims for a fundamental transfer of wealth and power from the few to the many?" he asked. "Or are we something else?"

Hilary Schan, co-chair of the Momentum Group, which supports Mr Corbyn, said the report showed that "right-wing Labour staff members worked to undermine the party's general election chances and its own complaints system, including on anti-Semitism. Disgracefully, while tens of thousands of Labour members were pounding the streets to kick the Tories out in favour of a socialist Labour government, these right-wing factional operators were wreaking havoc on the party from within," she added.

In October 2020, a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission's found Labour to have been responsible for "unlawful" acts of harassment and discrimination during Mr Corbyn's four-and a-half years as party leader. Its investigation identified serious failings in leadership and an inadequate process of handling anti-Semitism complaints.

Mr Corbyn said the scale of anti-Semitism within Labour had been "dramatically overstated" by his opponents and that he had always been "determined to eliminate all forms of racism". He was suspended from the party and was readmitted a month later, but Mr Corbyn was not readmitted to Labour's parliamentary party and continues to sit in the House of Commons as an independent MP.

Adam Langleben, the general secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement, said that the findings of the Forde Inquiry "vindicate the experiences of Labour's Jewish members". "Factionalism is no excuse for denying antisemitism. This is, foundationally, a report on factionalism. It does not undermine our well-documented an validated claims that antisemitism was pervasive in the Labour Party; nor does it undermine our claims, validated by an external body, that Labour leadership at the time failed to respond to antisemitism. There are many shortcomings in this report - those are not Mr Forde's fault - but rather the result of his mandate being to review party operations and not antisemitism." Mr Langleben pointed, in particular, to sections of the report dealing with Jewish Voice for Labour.

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Prime Minister William Croft announces the energy cap agreement to the House.

Reprieve for consumers as ministers agree to lower price cap

Ministers secured a smaller increase in the Ofgem energy price cap following a meeting with utilities and their regulator, Ofgem. In return for a £6.8 billion loan in the fourth quarter to offset increases in wholesale energy prices, the utilities and Ofgem agreed to a rise in the price cap of 5%, down from a planned 68% increase in the price cap. The new cap will be set at £2,069 for the fourth quarter - significantly lower than the anticipated £3,311 cap.

Resolution Foundation praised the announcement and said that they "hope to see continued action from the government on confronting the cost of living crisis." Other analysis noted that this action would constrain inflationary pressures felt by consumers temporarily. "Under the structure of the agreement, prices will rise at some point, but a catastrophic hike has been averted," said one analyst.

"I'm just so thankful. I don't think I could have paid my heating bills come December," said one person on the government's announcement. "While families are still squeezed, this prevents the squeeze from becoming a noose," said an LSE professor studying the cost of living.

Responding to concerns that this amounted to a hand out for highly profitable companies, Centrica pointed out that the majority of its profits come from its oil and gas exploration activities. A spokesman said that British Gas, the division the provides residential gas and power, had a profit of £97 million in the half year to date, down from a profit of £157 million at an equivalent point in 2021.

Energy research group Cornwall Insight noted that this is "a temporary reprieve". Models put forward by Cornwall indicated that, absent another loan in Q1 2023, the price cap would have to increase to at least £3,443 on existing energy trends. "We are monitoring potential for further long term disruption in British energy markets," said a Cornwall researcher.

Cornwall indicated that it would likely increase its projected price cap levels for Q2 2023 and beyond to account for the cost faced by utilities of servicing the loan granted to them. The price cap is expected to be lowered in Q2 and Q3 2023 as wholesale energy prices stabilise.

In particular, a Cornwall Insight research brief pointed to concerns over the nuclear industry. In particular, planned changes in investment and engineering use could push back the commissioning date for Hinkley Point C by one to two years. Sizewell C could also have its planned construction time pushed back by one to two years. Bradwell B risks a further five year delay should Chinese investors back out. "We'll see what happens," said an industry insider.

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Energy news roundup, 2022

Energy price cap set for record rise

Cornwall Insight released an updated figure for the January energy price cap increase by Ofgem. It is expected that the price cap will now reach £3,700, an 79% increase relative to the October price cap. Cornwall has also increased its estimate for Q2 2023.

“There are multiple dynamics at play here,” said Cornwall Insight’s release. “An increase in wholesale energy prices, questions regarding the United Kingdom’s nuclear capabilities, policy changes that will slow the deployment of renewable energy. Likewise, the incorporation of loan and interest payments into the price cap is further driving it upwards.”

The analysis pointed to government policies on the Emissions Trading System as having mixed impact. “On one hand, flooding the market does lower costs for producers. On the other hand, we are likely to see a slowing of lower emission energy source deployment, which is projected to raise wholesale energy prices over the medium term.”

Cornwall is further revising upwards its long-term energy cost projections, with the price cap expected to settle around £3,000 over the next five years. “There are unprecedented energy challenges for the United Kingdom and it must be confronted.”

Fracking potentially safe, recoverable reserves provide for seven years of gas

The British Geological Survey has announced that there is limited, but not nonexistent, risk of seismic activity from fracking in Lancashire’s Bowland Basin. This is likely to meet the government’s test to allow fracking to proceed in the region, if approved by local communities.

Further reporting from the British Geological Survey in association with Cuadrilla Resources anticipated that roughly 10-12% of the natural gas in the Bowland Basin, particularly off the Fylde Coast, would be recoverable. “Headlines used to report that this find had the potential to provide 70 years of natural gas for the United Kingdom; the reality is more like 7-10 and likely with an expanded extraction timeline. But that isn’t nothing.”

Several councils in the south of England announced their blanket opposition to fracking, likely blocking any development of resources in the Weald Basin. Though there is more support for fracking in Lancashire than elsewhere in the country, it is still opposed by a majority of voters.

Rising energy costs see firms cut back production

While the Ofgem price cap is critical at controlling prices for domestic fuel and power needs, no limited protection is offered to commercial users, who will continue to see prices rise with limited relief.

A survey by Make UK revealed that over 40% of manufacturers anticipate halting or slowing production over the coming year because of higher energy prices. Over 80% of firms are taking steps outside of production cuts to reduce energy production.

There are acute risks to the UK steel industry, which is likely to face significant costs from energy price increases. Likewise, UK automakers are expecting an additional £250 million in energy costs over the coming year. “This is a dangerous moment for the UK manufacturing sector,” said a Make UK spokesperson.

Trade war sparks uncertainty over UK nuclear ambitions

Escalating tensions with China have led to a series of setbacks for the United Kingdom’s nuclear ambitions. Transition at Hinkley Point C is likely to see operational status delayed until 2028 or 2029. Cornwall Insight, reviewing the UK nuclear power market, suggested that, “It is unlikely that the United Kingdom will meet its nuclear power production target outlined in the Energy Security Strategy.”

In addition to Hinkley Point C, questions remain regarding the Sizewell C project, which will likely require £4-5 billion of government investment. “Buying out China’s investment was cheap at the beginning. Paying the costs for it will add up for the government.” It was suggested that investors could be attracted by agreeing to a higher strike price for power produced by the project but that, ultimately, a higher strike price would be passed along to consumers in the form of higher energy costs.

Bradwell B is likely to face significant barriers as well. The withdrawal of the China General Nuclear Power Group led to the design plan being scrapped, likely pushing back development by five years at least as a new designed is proposed and approved. Likewise, French energy giant EDF indicated that it likely will be pulling out of the development of Bradwell B following its £3 billion buy-out of CGN’s stake in Hinkley Point C, citing lack of flexible cash reserves.

“Nuclear has always been a costly proposition,” said an industry analyst. “Whether the government can make it work without the billions in foreign investment they were counting on remains to be seen.

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