The Telegraph 2024-02-12 00:00:29


Grant Shapps: Woke extremists are rife in Army

The Army’s time and resources are being “squandered to promote a political agenda”, the Defence Secretary has said, as he held crisis talks with military chiefs over plans to relax security checks to increase diversity.

Grant Shapps said a “woke” and “extremist culture” had infiltrated the British Army and the military needed to focus on being a lethal fighting force.

He said that, amid the threat from Russia and the conflict in the Middle East, it was “inconceivable” that he would allow the standards for security clearance to be relaxed after The Telegraph revealed military personnel wanted to relax checks to promote ethnic diversity among officers.

On Sunday, Mr Shapps spoke to senior military chiefs to express his concerns about the plans and on Monday will officially launch a review of ethnicity, diversity and inclusivity policies in his department.

The military is suffering a recruitment crisis and has repeatedly failed to meet its targets, including boosting women and ethnic minority numbers.

However, all three branches of the military have also been plagued by a series of rows over how they attempt to improve diversity. 

Last year, Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton had to apologise for an RAF diversity drive that discriminated against white men.

A leaked army report, commissioned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), revealed on Sunday that officials had considered ways to “challenge” security clearance requirements for recruits from overseas to boost diversity and inclusion.

In response, Mr Shapps said: “I am committed to improving the working conditions and morale of all those who work in the military and Ministry of Defence.

“This is not only the right thing to do but is key to improving recruitment and retainment in our forces.

“However, time and resources are being squandered to promote a political agenda which is pitting individuals against each other, when what we need is a common set of values which delivers the military we need to defend us and our allies.

“This extremist culture has infiltrated public life over years and it is time for a proper shake-up, designed to refocus the military on its core mission – being a lethal fighting force.”

He told The Telegraph “At a time when the world faces a threat as serious as any time in the last 50 years, it is inconceivable that I would allow a lowering of standards on security clearance.

“And no one should be offended by having religion as part of remembrance services. You don’t have to be Christian to appreciate and respect the history and traditions of the United Kingdom.

“There is a woke culture that has seeped into public life over time and is poisoning the discourse. Anyone who questions it is dismissed out of hand.

“I am willing to stand up to challenge it.”

Writing for the Daily Express, Mr Shapps also pledged to review policies such as unconscious bias training and the introduction of gender-neutral toilets, which he labelled “deeply unpopular and troubling”.

The leaked report, entitled The British Army’s Race Action Plan, which The Telegraph understands the MoD commissioned the Army to produce and later approved, states that the Army “struggles to attract talent from ethnic minority backgrounds into the officer corps”.

It describes security clearance vetting as being “the primary barrier to non-UK personnel gaining a commission in the Army” and says it will “challenge SC [security clearance] requirements” to boost representation in the intelligence and officer corps, positions which have “uncontrolled access to secret assets”.

A senior defence source defended the Army’s decision to widen its recruiting pool by looking abroad to Commonwealth nations, as has been the case with the Gurkhas.

Mr Shapps added: “We want people from all backgrounds to serve in our military.

“But some of the policies and plans reported in the Telegraph appear to be more about a political agenda than practically improving the lives of our dedicated soldiers and military personnel.”

The Telegraph can reveal that the MoD has 93 diversity networks for personnel to discuss race, gender and mental health. The groups issue diversity guidance, display posters and celebrate diversity-related events across the forces.

In comparison, the Home Office has 19 formal staff networks and the Ministry of Justice has 18.

 

In January, The Telegraph revealed that the Royal Navy is redeploying marines and sailors to become diversity and inclusion officers amid ongoing recruitment challenges in manning its ships.

The shortage of servicemen and women has already led the Navy to decommission two warships because it does not have enough sailors to crew its new fleet of frigates.

Many military figures are understood to be unhappy about their diversity targets. Last year, the head of the navy said that they “can lead to some strange behaviours”.

Admiral Sir Ben Key, the First Sea Lord, admitted he felt “nervous” about targets despite the MoD’s goal of ensuring 30 per cent of the armed forces’ new recruits are women by 2030.

In 2021, the director of the National Army Museum warned that the drive for diversity could mean it struggles to recruit enough soldiers. Justin Maciejewski, who commanded troops in Iraq, said it was imperative the armed forces did not lose sight of its “core workforce” by focusing too heavily on recruiting candidates from different backgrounds.

A source close to the Defence Secretary said: “He’s determined it is rooted out on his watch. He’s ready to go to battle on it.

“There are personnel issues that need addressing in the armed services but some of these policies are about a woke agenda.”

Michael Gove, the Housing Secretary, agreed with his colleague as he said political correctness should not “impair our ability to defend our borders”.

He told Sky’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips: “Grant Shapps has been looking at the specific policies we have in the Ministry of Defence to ensure that we strike the right balance, that we provide protection for individuals in our armed forces, that we make sure that we draw all the talent available in this country to ensure that

“We have a strong and diverse military, but also to make sure that these policies operate in such a way as to ensure that political correctness, or some of the more ‘out there’ approaches that people take towards diversity, equity and inclusion don’t impair our ability to defend our borders and to make sure that this country is secure.”

On Sunday, aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales’s planned departure to lead the biggest Nato exercise since the Cold War was delayed at the last minute. The Royal Navy’s £3 billion aircraft carrier should have set sail from Portsmouth to lead a carrier strike group of eight ships, but it is now understood that the warship is being prepared to sail towards Norway on Monday instead. The reason for the delay was not revealed.

Fly-tippers trapped as locals block their vans and call police

Fly-tippers were caught red-handed dumping piles of rubbish on a country lane in Warwickshire when locals blocked their vans from leaving the area and called police.

Two men were detained and forced to load the rubbish back into their vans by officers, who said it was “some of the worst fly-tipping” they had seen.

Photographs show swathes of black bin bags and what appears to be industrial materials lying at the side of a country lane on the edge of the village of Meriden.

However, locals blocked two men from leaving the scene before police officers arrived to detain them.

A local farmer’s wife ensured the police officers were well fed while they watched the men clean up the mess – with a homemade cake and cups of tea.

No cake or tea was given to the fly-tippers, police said.

It is not the first time people from the village of Meriden have taken matters into their own hands.

Twelve years ago, residents – some of whom were in their eighties – barricaded an illegal traveller camp for more than 600 days.

It is understood last Wednesday’s fly-tipping blockade – just one mile from their previous protest – lasted less time and police arrived only minutes after receiving a 999 call.

Sharing photographs on its Operational Patrol Unit for Warwickshire Police Facebook Page, an officer wrote : “We attended the Packington Estate on Maxstone Lane near Meriden to a report of two vans fly-tipping.

“We attended in support of North Warwickshire Local Policing officers who had been called to the scene after local residents and workers on the estate had blocked the offenders in.

“On arrival we found some of the worst fly-tipping we had seen in a long time.

“We detained two males who were instructed to reload the two vans with all the rubbish dumped.

“We supervised them cleaning up their mess and enjoyed a great cup of tea and slice of home made cake courtesy of the farmer’s wife.

“No cake and tea for these two offenders.”

The reloaded vans were then seized under the Environmental Act.

A “fly-tipper” is someone who deliberately deposits rubbish in an unauthorised place. It is illegal under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and those who commit the crime can receive a maximum fine of £50,000 and up to five years in prison.

However, despite the threat of a prison sentence, it is still a commonly reported crime across the country.

The issue was raised in the House of Commons earlier this month, as MPs questioned Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ministers about the problem.

The debate prompted Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne to suggest an unusual punishment for perpetrators.

“The penalties are insufficient. If offenders were garrotted with their own intestines, there’d be fewer of them,” the New Forest West MP said.

The suggestion was met with laughter across the House.

Environment minister Robbie Moore had earlier told the Commons: “I know what a blight litter and fly-tipping can have on local communities, which is why we have provided nearly £1 million to help councils purchase new bins, and almost £1.2 million to combat fly-tipping and a further £1 million will be awarded in the spring.”

A Warwickshire Police spokesperson said: “Cleaning up the results of fly-tipping is the responsibility of the local council and members of the public who discover incidents of fly-tipping should report it to them directly.

“Officers from the Warwickshire Rural Crime Team also attended the scene and have now taken on the investigation and prosecution case.”

Anti-Ulez campaigners block ‘every camera’ in London borough

Anti-Ulez activists have blocked “every camera” in Sutton in a protest at Sadiq Khan’s controversial scheme.

Around 400 protesters took part in the borough-wide demonstration, which organisers say involved obstructing more than 80 cameras on Sunday afternoon.

Bus driver Kingsley Hamilton, of campaign group Action Against Unfair Ulez, said the demonstration meant that no Ulez camera was functioning in the south London borough – as at least 20 other cameras have already been damaged or removed.

Motorists driving through Sutton were previously not impacted by the Ultra Low Emission Zone daily charges of £12.50 per day for non-compliant vehicles.

However, London mayor Mr Khan’s expansion of the scheme last year saw around 90 per cent of the borough fall under Ulez rules overnight.

The decision was fiercely opposed by the council and a petition set up to delay the expansion until public transport in Sutton had “improved significantly” amassed thousands of signatures.

On Sunday, between 12pm and 3pm, activists held up signs in front of cameras which enforce the scheme allowing motorists with non-compliant vehicles to drive through the borough for free.

Mr Hamilton, 45, told The Telegraph: “There are 107 cameras that we are aware of but a lot of them have been deactivated.

“We got at least 80 covered today, so every single camera in the borough is either deactivated or is being covered with a placard today.

“We’ve put messages out on social media advertising the fact it is only for three hours, so drivers can do what they would normally do – like visit a relative in hospital, without being fined.”

Mr Hamilton, who brought his 1967 Routemaster bus to the demonstration, lives in Wallington with his wife Hannah.

The couple have a Volkswagen Tiguan which they use to drive their two-year-old son Teddy to hospital appointments.

The toddler has primary ciliary dyskinesia, a rare disorder which affects the airways and means he often suffers from lung infections.

Mrs Hamilton, 40, who attended the protest as well said: “We can’t afford to buy a new car and if my son needs to go to hospital, I’m not going to wait for an ambulance – I’m going to drive him myself.”

While standing at the Rosehill Roundabout in Sutton, Mr Hamilton and his fellow activists received several beeps in support from drivers as they passed, including motorists in smaller and seemingly compliant cars.

“Even people who have compliant cars had to fork out and get unaffordable loans to buy these compliant cars,” Mr Hamilton said.

“So it’s all very well saying that people have compliant cars now, but they’ve still got that loan to pay off, that loan that they didn’t need during a cost of living crisis.”

Some anti-Ulez activists have previously taken their rage even further – with so-called “Blade-Runners” ripping down or damaging cameras – a criminal offence.

However, Mr Hamilton was keen to stress that his group would not be breaking the law.

He said: “Some of the cameras in the borough have already been deactivated. Obviously, that has nothing to do with us, we are not condoning any criminal activity.”

The Telegraph has approached the Mayor of London and Transport for London for a response.

A Met Police spokesman said: “Police are aware of a protest at the Rose Hill Roundabout in Sutton today, Sunday 11 February. The protest passed peacefully and no arrests were made. The group have now left the area.”

Can the Democrats oust Biden?

A new poll released on Sunday found that 86 per cent of American voters believe that 81-year-old Joe Biden is too old to serve another term.

In a report released on Thursday, special counsel Robert Hur described the US president as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”, and thus ruled he should not face further scrutiny over allegations he mishandled confidential documents.

Despite growing evidence suggesting Mr Biden is an electoral liability, experts warn that ditching him as the Democrat nominee for the November presidential election is fraught with difficulty.

Mr Biden’s supporters have an iron grip on the Democratic National Committee, which has bent over backwards to support him.

It altered the primary calendar, decreeing that New Hampshire – where Mr Biden fared badly in 2020 – should no longer be the first in the nation, instead making it so that South Carolina – which brought his campaign back from the dead four years ago – was first on the calendar.

If the Democrats wish to now introduce a new candidate to run against Mr Biden for the nomination they would be severely inhibited as 80 per cent of the upcoming primary contests have closed applications for new entries.

Any rule changes to allow for a new candidate on the ballot in those states would have to be passed by the party’s Biden-backing Rules and Bylaws Committee.

In theory, delegates who have already pledged their support for Mr Biden but are now concerned by his mental state could defect when it came to a floor vote. But that is considered highly unlikely.

“There is no mechanism that could force him out. That could only happen voluntarily,” explained Christopher Galdieri, professor of politics at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

“If he were to stand aside a lot would depend on timing. If it took place after the primaries,  when all the delegates had been selected they would make the decision at the convention.

“You would have a throwback to the 19th century where the nomination was fought out on the floor, rather than rubber-stamping the primary and caucus results.”

Professor Galdieri said if Mr Biden dropped out while the primaries were in full flow “There would be absolute chaos. Biden’s name would be on most of the ballots.

“In other states, there would be a scramble,” he added.

“Either way it would be the worst of both worlds, There would be very short notice.

“Candidates who have not been through the wringer would turn up at the convention and tear each other apart.”

Mr Biden remains publicly determined to contest the presidential election. If he opted to drop out, he would follow in similar footsteps to Lyndon Johnson who, in failing health and unnerved by Bobby Kennedy’s entry into the presidential race as well as his narrow win in New Hampshire over  Eugene McCarthy, announced he would not seek re-election.

“I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president,” he said in an address to the nation in 1968.

Some of Mr Biden’s allies have suggested he should follow the example of Ronald Reagan’s riposte in a presidential debate when critics suggested that at 73, he was too old to seek a second term.

“I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Even his opponent, Walter Mondale, laughed.

Female inmates’ views on sharing prison with trans convicts ‘kept secret’ by Scottish Prison Service

Female prisoners’ views on transgender inmates in Scotland will be kept secret after the prison service blocked requests for a poll to be made public.

Critics accused the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) of silencing women’s voices after refusing to disclose their responses to a survey carried out as part of a review of its controversial transgender prisoner management policy.

The review of the policy was ongoing when rapist Isla Bryson, previously known as Adam Graham, was sent to Scotland’s only women’s jail following conviction in February last year. Bryson was later moved to a male jail following a huge outcry.

The results of the survey were requested under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. However, the SPS refused to disclose them, saying if they were made public, it could undermine the confidentiality of the women who took part.

The updated policy, which was finalised in December, still allows male-bodied inmates to be placed in female jails if they identify as women, under certain conditions.

Even after the Bryson controversy, the SPS has refused to follow the far tougher rules on trans prisoners which are in place in England.

SNP is demonstrating ‘pervasive secrecy’

Russell Findlay, the Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary, said the public was “surely entitled” to hear the views of women prisoners expected to share single-sex spaces with male-bodied inmates.

He said: “Personal or other sensitive information could be easily removed before publication of this important survey. Doing so might also help explain why the majority of women didn’t even respond.

“Across Scotland’s justice system and the wider public sector, we see increasing evidence of the SNP’s pervasive secrecy culture and this appears to be yet another example.”

Giving evidence to MSPs earlier this year, Theresa Medhurst, chief executive of the SPS, claimed women in custody were “very kind to and understanding of transgender individuals in our care”.

However, critics of her policy insist that women prisoners, who have often suffered violence at the hands of men, could be traumatised by the mere presence of male inmates in the female estate.

Kenny MacAskill, the former SNP justice secretary who now sits as an Alba Party MP, said the refusal to release the data “smacked of a cover-up”.

“This is entirely unacceptable,” he said. “An assessment can’t be made without being able to consider all sides of the argument and, in particular, the views of women prisoners who are most impacted.

“Anonymity can and should be given but the totality of what was said by women must be available.”

The SPS turned down the FOI request by claiming releasing the information would  “prejudice substantially the effective conduct of public affairs”.

In contrast, an SPS prisoner survey carried out every two years is published on its website and says the comprehensive results “furnishes a meaningful channel for the user’s voice to be heard”.

An SPS spokesman said: “We consulted widely in developing our Policy for the Management of Transgender People in Custody, including with women in our care, and their views were integral to its development.

“Under the policy any transgender woman with a history of violence against women and girls, who presents a risk to women and girls, will not be placed in the female estate.”

Four boys aged between 12 and 14 arrested on suspicion of rape

Four boys aged between 12 and 14 have been arrested on suspicion of raping a young girl near a car park in Rochdale.

Officers were called to reports of a rape near a Morrisons supermarket in Newbold at around 6pm on Saturday, Greater Manchester Police said.

The teenagers, a 12-year-old, 13-year-old and two 14-year-olds, were arrested and remain in police custody.

The young female victim is currently being supported by specialist officers and a crime scene remains in place as officers continue their investigation.

An area of land near Newbold Metrolink station has been cordoned off.

A force spokesman said: “A scene remains in place as officers continue their investigation.

“If you or someone you know has been raped or sexually assaulted, we encourage you not to suffer in silence and report it to the police, or a support agency so you can get the help and support available.”

John Hogkinson, 80, who lives directly next to the crime scene, told Manchester Evening News: “The police came but we didn’t hear anything.

“We were shocked because it’s so quiet around here. I’ve lived here for 17 years and I’ve never heard of anything like this. It’s awful.”

Lynn Davies, who lives by the cordon, told the paper: “I knew something had happened. The police came last night knocking on to ask if we had seen anything.

“It makes my skin crawl. It’s bad enough when it’s an adult, but children?”

Out! Couple’s pickleball court dream will not be allowed to disturb peace of village

A couple’s plans to build a pickleball court have been met with widespread opposition from residents in a plush Norfolk village

Developers named in planning papers as Mr and Mrs Mackenzie applied to build “a two-storey unashamedly modern dwelling” in Burnham Overy Staithe.

But West Norfolk councillors went against their own officer’s recommendation to approve the proposals because they considered them “inappropriate” in a conservation area.

Some 49 objections were received on the council’s planning portal, with pickleball one of the main bones of contention.

Emma Rance said: “Pickleball is a current craze in the US and is becoming known in the UK.

“A huge backlash has begun with courts now being closed in rural green spaces and towns because of the anti-social noise it generates.

“It is played with a hard bat and hard ball and unlike the gentle thud of a tennis ball on racket it is a hard sound which reverberates with some force, in relentless fashion.”

Noise would affect community

Mary Rance said the court “would generate a large amount of disturbance and noise affecting the local amenity”.

Debs Hargreaves added: “The question of noise pollution and pickleball should be addressed.”

Others highlighted the property’s impact on a coastal harbour which has changed little since Nelson’s time.

Burnham Overy Staithe Parish Council objected, saying the development would set “a significant negative precedent” and cause “significant harm to the character of the conservation area” when viewed from the sea wall.

Simon Wilson Stephens said: “Nelson, to name just one amongst many generations to have sailed, walked, lived, worked in this precious place, will turn in his grave if this is allowed to go ahead in its present form.”

A planning statement said: “This proposal replaces a poor-quality house with a new building of outstanding architectural design.”

Game popularised in US in 1960s

Pickleball became popular in America in the 1960s.

Its name is said to be derived from the phrase ‘pickle boat’, where a rowing crew is made up from leftovers from other boats. In the same way, pickleball uses equipment left over from other sports.

In 2021, 2022 and 2023, pickleball was named the fastest-growing sport in the US by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, with almost 5m players.

But the game, where players hit a hard plastic ball to and fro over a net, is not without its controversies.

The New York Times said noise from the game was “driving everyone nuts”.

It added: “The incessant pop-pop-pop of the fast-growing sport has brought on a nationwide scourge of unneighbourly clashes, petitions, calls to the police and lawsuits, with no solution in sight.”