The Telegraph 2024-02-14 18:00:34

Politics latest news: Sunak condemns ‘aggressive mob’ who targeted Tobias Ellwood’s home

Rishi Sunak has condemned an “aggressive mob” who targeted the home of a Conservative MP over the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Dozens of activists stood outside Tobias Ellwood’s family home in Dorset on Monday night brandishing flags, placards and a megaphone.

Mr Ellwood, who represents Bournemouth East and is a former defence minister, was at home with his children during the demonstration, which ended at about 9pm on Monday and was attended by police as part of a security scheme to protect the homes and offices of MPs.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Mr Sunak said: “Democracy is built on free debate – but increasingly MPs have been targeted by aggressive mobs for exercising those freedoms.

“We will never let those who intimidate prevail. It’s paramount MPs’ security is protected, and our democratic values upheld. Nothing is more important.”

About 80 activists had lined the road outside Mr Ellwood’s home for several hours,  some holding placards depicting a picture of him with the words “complicit in genocide” across his face.

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Labour lead drops to lowest level since last June in new poll

Labour’s lead over the Tories has fallen to its lowest level since last June as Sir Keir Starmer faces one of the most difficult periods of his leadership.

The Savanta survey, conducted in the days after Sir Keir Starmer radically downgraded his flagship green spending pledge, put Labour on 41 per cent of the vote, down five points on two weeks before.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives made a small gain of two points, placing the party on 29 per cent.

It is Labour’s narrowest lead in any Savanta poll since June 2023, while its vote share is at its lowest since September 2022.

The findings suggest Sir Keir’s dramatic change of heart on the £28 billion commitment, ridiculed by the Tories, may have cut through to the general public, spooking his supporters.

Pollster Chris Hopkins said it shows Labour’s lead is not “infallible”, but warned against reading “too much into one poll – yet”.

It comes as Sir Keir finds himself in damage control mode for a second week running, having been forced into yet another U-turn in a deepening anti-Semitism crisis.

On Tuesday, he suspended Graham Jones, who was due to stand for Labour in Hyndburn, after it emerged that he referred to “f—ing Israel” at a public meeting and said that British volunteers in the Israel Defense Forces should be “locked up”.

Sir Keir was pushed into the decision less than a day after he retracted his support for Azhar Ali, Labour’s candidate in this month’s Rochdale by-election, whose own “abhorrent” claims about Israel sparked the latest row.

The first key test of the fallout from both controversies will come on Thursday, when voters in Kingswood and Wellingborough go to the polls in a double by-election that had been expected to deliver a blow to Rishi Sunak.

The Savanta poll of roughly 2,000 UK adults was carried out from 9 to 11 February, and contrasted with results from its last survey on 26 to 28 January. If the results were replicated at a general election, according to seat-modelling site Electoral Calculus, Labour would be on course for a majority of 92.

Mr Hopkins, the firm’s political research director, said: “This significant drop in Labour’s lead may well be in response to a torrid couple of weeks for Keir Starmer’s party, and part of a wider trend. It may also be something else entirely, and I’d caution people not to read too much into one poll – yet.

“But this poll still serves as useful a reminder as any that Labour’s lead – while consistently high for many months – is not infallible. Voters have not quite made up their mind about Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, and doubts could well be creeping back in.

“One thing is for certain, if this drop in the polls is a consequence of their recent troubles, it does not bode well for a short campaign. A Conservative machine in full swing and the inevitable increased scrutiny from the media may well be very uncomfortable for the Labour Party.”

Queen Camilla made Honorary Liveryman of company dedicated to fans

The Queen’s love of fans has seen her become a member of a City of London livery company dedicated to their promotion.

The Queen was left fanning herself in delight after she was made an “Honorary Liveryman” of the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers and put on their robes during a ceremony rarely seen outside of the City of London.

She was presented with a fan made by designer Stewart Parvin, who created dresses for Queen Elizabeth II and was commissioned by the Fan Makers in 2020, to mark the impact of Covid-19 on so many lives with his design.

The Queen told the assembled Liverymen at Clarence House: “I’m very proud to be part of the family,” and explained that “upstairs” in her private apartment she had a collection of fans.

A fan belonging to the Queen’s great-grandmother Alice Keppel – famed for being the mistress of Edward VII – was the star attraction of a small exhibition of fans with a royal connection, held during the event.

The Queen is patron of London’s Fan Museum and the institution was able to find an expert fan maker to help repair the accessory, made with feathers from the jay bird.

The Queen was joined by the Duchess of Gloucester, installed as a Liveryman of the Fan Makers in 2005, and as they both looked at the delicate Keppel fan, the Queen told her: “I said: ‘Can you do anything about this?’ And here we are.”

The Fan Makers can trace their origins back to 1670 when a guild was formed via a petition to Parliament concerning the threat of imported fans and later gained a royal charter in 1709.

Today, its focus is charitable and community projects with its members drawn from a wide group of individuals whose association with fans may relate to modern fans like turbines.

Peter Dove, Master of the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers, said about the Queen’s decision to join the ancient organisation: “Amazing, because we’re a small company, we’re not well known, we’re a little bit different.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have somebody who is interested in fans in her own right, this is something for her really, and we just hope that will be a two-way street – she’ll be a good ambassador for us.”

Sue Gray ‘made Labour staff cry’ in £28bn green pledge U-turn inquiry

Labour staffers have lodged a complaint over Sue Gray’s handling of an inquiry into a leak about the party’s plans to drop the £28 billion green pledge.

Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff allegedly made staff cry as she was said to have inspected several phones and spoken to employees without trade union representatives present.

Party officials have said that they were denied due process during the internal investigation, following a story that emerged in The Guardian which correctly predicted Labour’s about-turn on its flagship pledge.

The Times reported that the Labour Party branch of the GMB union submitted a formal complaint about Ms Gray’s investigation to David Evans, the party’s general secretary.

They later sent an email to all staff reminding them of their rights during a workplace investigation.

Ms Gray, a former civil servant, has reportedly called some of those affected by the investigation to apologise.

Those told to turn their phones over included senior members of Sir Keir’s team.

A party spokesman said he did not comment on disciplinary matters, but a source confirmed to The Times that “there was an investigation last week”, which involved speaking to members of staff.

It is not known whether anyone has been identified as being behind the leak, or whether Ms Gray has evidence of any unauthorised disclosure. It is understood not to be the first leak inquiry of Sir Keir’s leadership. 

The Human resources team for the opposition party is understood to also have been involved in this investigation, and only those who were prepared to hand over their phones did so – with staff told that they could hand over their devices voluntarily.

Anybody seeking union representation was said to have been supported.

Former head of Government’s ethics team

Ms Gray, 66, was poached by Sir Keir’s team in March last year, having previously investigated Boris Johnson over lockdown breaches at No 10. 

She first worked in the Civil Service in the 1970s and went on to become the head of the Government’s propriety and ethics team in the Cabinet Office for six years.

The news that she was jumping ship to join Sir Keir’s top team sparked anger in the Conservative Party, with Government figures urging Acoba, the Whitehall appointments watchdog, to impose a cooling-off period of at least a year.

But despite saying it “shared some of the concerns” over a potential risk to the Civil Service’s integrity, the committee cleared Ms Gray to start as the Labour leader’s chief of staff after just six months.

Led by Conservative peer Lord Pickles, it said it had seen “no evidence” that her decision-making or impartiality were “impaired” while serving in Whitehall. She officially started the role in September.

A separate, damning Cabinet Office inquiry found that Ms Gray had breached impartiality rules and could have been suspended or sacked had she not quit.

The assessment, signed off by Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, and the Government’s most senior lawyer concluded that Ms Gray “fell short” of the requirements of both the Civil Service Code and her employment contract when she quietly took part in talks about joining Labour. 

Ms Gray declined to co-operate with the internal inquiry and Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA trade union, insisted that it was his understanding that there was “no conclusion”.

The investigation revelations come as Sir Keir faces a difficult week as leader of the Labour Party, having suspended two parliamentary candidates within 24 hours. 

He has faced criticism for his handling of the Rochdale by-election candidate, Azhar Ali, claiming that Israel let Hamas attack its own citizens on Oct 7 to get the “green light” to invade Gaza.

Shadow ministers were sent out to defend Mr Ali, who had apologised for the remarks, before the party then withdrew its support on Monday evening.

Labour has been approached for comment.

Seaside second homes hotspot voted ‘UK’s most depressing place to live’

A seaside town in Cornwall where a row about second home owners broke out has been voted the UK’s most depressing place to live.

Falmouth, a coastal town near the Fal estuary, has been awarded the unwanted title of “most depressing” in the UK by iLive Here, which described it as a place which “saps the residents’ will to live”.

In a survey, the first of its kind, people voted for the most “bland, boring, soulless, uncultured middle-England municipalities of mediocrity, that imbue the inhabitants with an almost terminal case of ennui”.

Falmouth trumped Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, by 27 votes, while Aberdeen and Alloa in Scotland came third and fourth on the list.

The news comes after claims that residents of Falmouth were being “forced out” because of its popularity amongst holidaymakers, who were buying second homes and preventing locals from getting on the property ladder.

Oliver Berry wrote in the i newspaper in March 2023: “It’s been four months, and I am still looking for somewhere to live in Cornwall.

“My partner and I spent six years in our Falmouth flat, but we’re moving on, reluctantly. An eye-watering rent increase (18 per cent) is driving us out.

“What’s holding back our move is simple: we can’t find anywhere to go.

“The competition’s fierce. Every property has dozens of applicants. There are too few places, and too many people looking”.

Property prices in Cornwall have soared more than 25 per cent in two years, according to Rightmove.

The average house in Cornwall costs almost 10 times the average wage, according to Cornwall Live, with the average home at £316,045 in 2023 and the average salary at £32,715.

Old Hill and Acacia were named by iLive Here as the “worst places” in Falmouth, with Old Hill being described as a “dumping ground, where most councils from outside Cornwall decide to release their unruly tenants”.

“If you decide to relocate to Falmouth, just avoid this area and you’ll be fine,” the website advises.

Other towns on iLive’s list included Yeovil in Somerset, which ranked sixth on the list and Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, which came in at number seven.

Tiverton in Devon ranked at number five and was described as “the last of our Devon pastoral picturesque places that no doubt papers over an underbelly of oppressive black-dog-humping-your-leg ennui”.

iLive usually releases “the 50 best places to live” and “50 worst places to live in England”, as voted for by its readers.

Last year, Darlington, Aylesbury and Norwich were voted the top three best places to live whilst Luton, Peterborough and Portsmouth were voted the three worst.

Watch: Florida police open fire on unarmed suspect after confusing bouncing acorn for gunshot

Florida police opened fire on an unarmed black man they had handcuffed in a patrol car after mistaking the sound of a falling acorn for a gunshot.

Bodycam footage shows Deputy Jesse Hernandez flinging himself to the ground and pulling out his gun after an acorn bounced off the roof of his vehicle.

Apparently believing that Marquis Jackson was shooting at him, even though the 22-year-old had been patted down twice for weapons, he fired his semi-automatic pistol.

Mr Hernandez, who served two tours of Afghanistan as an officer but did not see direct combat, yelled “shots fired” repeatedly while discharging a volley of bullets at the vehicle.

When his colleague, Sergeant Beth Roberts, shouted to check if he was safe, Mr Hernandez groaned as he collapsed on his side and answered: “I’m hit! I’m hit!”

“He shot through the car,” Mr Hernandez added, pulling himself on his hands and knees to drag himself behind a nearby vehicle.

Believing her colleague had been shot as he stumbled around on the street, Ms Roberts then opened fire on the car herself.

Trapped on the back seat and wearing handcuffs, Mr Jackson said he could only slump down as the back windscreen shattered to avoid “getting shot in the head”.

“I’m good,” Mr Hernandez shouted as he sheltered behind a grey Tesla, gun still in hand. “I feel weird but I’m good… It might have hit my vest.”

Interviewed after the incident by Michael Hogan, an investigator, the deputy said he had “definitely” heard a “suppressed weapon” firing.

“I felt an impact on my right side, like upper torso area…my legs just give out,” he claimed.

When shown images from his bodycam footage of the acorn hitting his car, Mr Hernandez asked: “Acorn?” Mr Hogan confirmed: “Acorn.”

Questioned if he could have mistaken the sound of the acorn for gunfire, he answered: “What I heard sounded what I think would be louder than an acorn hitting the roof of the car, but there’s obviously an acorn hitting the roof of the car.”

Mr Jackson, who had been arrested on suspicion of stealing his girlfriend’s car, was not harmed as the two officers shot at him, although he said he had been traumatised by the incident.

“All I could do was lean over and play dead to prevent getting shot in the head,” he wrote in a Facebook post after the incident.

“I was scared to death and I knew all I could depend on was God! I ignored everything and prayed!

“Windows were shattering on me the whole time as bullets continued flying across me. I was blessed not to get hit by any bullets or get hurt physically but mentally, I’m not ok.”

Mr Hernandez resigned while under investigation in December last year.

In a statement reported by local media, Eric Aden, the county sheriff, said they did not believe the former deputy had acted “with any malice”.

He said: “Though his actions were ultimately not warranted, we do believe he felt his life was in immediate peril and his response was based off the totality of circumstances surrounding this fear.”

“We understand this situation was traumatic for Mr. Jackson and all involved and have incorporated this officer involved shooting into our training to try to ensure nothing similar happens again,” he added.

Lincolnshire sheep farmer sets fire to flock’s fleeces after prices tumble

A sheep farmer is setting fire to her flock’s fleeces because the low price of natural wool has made the product almost worthless.

Jade Bett who grazes 260 animals in fields in Yarburgh, Lincolnshire, said she let the fleeces go up in smoke as there was “no economic way” of getting rid of them.

Fleece prices have tumbled from £14 per kg in the 1950s to less than 87p for the same amount today – with farmers getting a return of as little as 26p per kg over the last few years.

Ms Bett said she would be lucky to get £30 for her wool, after costs, and was frustrated she had to burn the fleeces.

“It’s a shame when you’ve got a natural phenomenon like your wool, which does have to come off your sheep every year that in 2024 we haven’t got a better system of doing something with it.”

The 43-year-old’s prize-winning flock is made up of breeds such as British Berrichon du Cher, Blue Texels and Dutch Spotted sheep.

‘I don’t feel there is a wool industry’

She said national organisations such as British Wool offer farmers a price for the fleeces when the sheep come to be shaved.

But Ms Bett said the expense required to take the natural product to one of its centres made this unviable and felt the wool industry in the UK was dying out.

She said: “I don’t feel like there is a wool industry.

“I know there are a few very small businesses that think they’ll have a go at felting wool and try to make wool shoes or slippers but they’re few and far between.

“There are industries trying to sell wool insulation for your house but it’s more than three times the price of cheap plastic fibre insulation.

“If we all wore wool jumpers and were all walking on wool carpets, wool products wouldn’t be the price that they are and it would all be a bit more affordable.

“But somehow, we don’t have that ethos where we all want to wear natural fibres.

“And I don’t know how we can turn it round so there is something good that comes from the wool that is grown every year.”

Ms Bett said she was facing other pressures that were making her hobby more unsustainable such as the price of electricity needed to power heat lamps during lambing.

“It is getting to a point where you fear about your life choices,” she added

A spokesman for British Wool said fleece prices were increasing and urged farmers not to burn them.

He said: “A very small percentage of the wool produced in the UK gets burned or disposed of on farm, most of it comes to British Wool and is sold for use in a wide range of products across the world.

“Wool prices are increasing and we have seen a 25 per cent increase in our auction prices since September.

“We work with many farmers who use their own wool to produce amazing products and would always encourage and support this kind of entrepreneurial spirit.

“We urge any farmers thinking of burning their wool to contact us.”