The Telegraph 2024-02-16 06:00:32


Live Wellingborough and Kingswood by-elections live: Starmer ‘on course’ to be next PM, says polling expert

Sir Keir Starmer is “on course” to be the next prime minister after Labour’s by-election victories in Wellingborough and Kingswood, Professor Sir John Curtice said. 

The polling expert told the BBC: “For Labour, frankly, this is all pretty much good news. They will be slightly disappointed that they didn’t do better in Kingswood, they can’t complain much about what they achieved in Wellingborough. Sir Keir Starmer, one has to say at the moment, still looks to be on course to be our next prime minister.”

Labour snatched both seats away from the Tories overnight in a major blow to Rishi Sunak. The Conservatives now have lost more by-elections in a single parliament than any administration since the 1960s.

Sir Keir said the results were “fantastic” and showed “people want change and are ready to put their faith in a changed Labour Party to deliver it”.

He said: “By winning in these Tory strongholds, we can confidently say that Labour is back in the service of working people and we will work tirelessly to deliver for them.

“The Tories have failed. Rishi’s recession proves that. That’s why we’ve seen so many former Conservative voters switching directly to this changed Labour Party.”

You can follow the latest updates below and join the conversation in the comments section here.

Jeremy Hunt shelves 2p income tax cut

Jeremy Hunt has shelved plans for a 2p cut to income tax at next month’s Budget as it was revealed the economy has entered a recession.

The Chancellor had been considering reducing the basic rate of income tax from 20 to 18 per cent. He had also considered reducing National Insurance employee contributions by two percentage points as an alternative.

However, the Office for National Statistics announced on Thursday that the economy had contracted 0.3 per cent in the last three months of 2023.

The ONS’s chief economist said that worklessness in Britain had contributed to weaker growth than other countries. There are 9.25 million people classed as economically inactive.

New forecasts showing the high costs of servicing government debt mean that Mr Hunt has less money to spend than expected. The Telegraph understands he has therefore deemed both moves unaffordable for now.

The tightening public finances mean that deeper-than-expected spending cuts are also now being considered for the years after the general election.

A Treasury source told The Telegraph: “The world has changed. Everything you thought was going to happen [at the Budget] may not now happen.”

It was the second quarter in a row of negative growth, which meant the UK entered a technical recession, undermining Rishi Sunak’s promise to grow the economy, one of five pledges he made at the beginning of 2023.

Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has warned that high levels of worklessness are part of the reason for the recession.

Writing in The Telegraph Mr Stride says: “The shadow of economic inactivity – people not in work nor looking for it – continues to hang over our nation”.

He adds: “I find it deeply concerning that 2.8 million people are now off sick – missing out on the financial, social and health benefits we know work brings, and denying the engine of growth, our fantastic British businesses, the labour they need.”

According to the ONS, 9.25 million people aged between 16 and 64 are not working nor looking for work.

Grant Fitzner, the ONS’s chief economist, also warned that economic inactivity was a major factor holding back growth. The UK remains the only G7 nation yet to return to pre-pandemic employment levels.

Conservative MPs had been banking on major tax cuts to reinvigorate the party’s political fortunes. But the Chancellor hinted at a more cautious tax approach in interviews on Thursday.

Downing Street will also learn on Friday if, as predicted for weeks by insiders, the Conservatives lose the by-elections in Wellingborough and Kingswood. A double defeat would raise fresh questions about electability under Mr Sunak.

Mr Hunt told Sky News: “I do believe that if you look around the world, that the economies like the United States and Canada which have lighter taxes, particularly lighter taxes on business, tend to grow faster.

“But I would only cut taxes in a way that was responsible and I certainly wouldn’t do anything that fuelled inflation just when we are starting to have some success in bringing down inflation.”

The official figures showed Britain is suffering the longest hit to living standards on record.

The ONS said output per person fell sharply at the end of last year, meaning the economy has failed to grow since early 2022 after accounting for population growth.

This is the longest period of falling or stagnating living standards since records began in 1955.

On Thursday Lord Rose, the chairman of Asda, called for more of the economically inactive to be helped back into work.

He said: “We need to get some of our own indigenous workforce back into work. It’s madness that we’ve got these 9.2 million people who are economically inactive now. 2.8 million of them claim they’re not fit to work. Well, if that’s true, I’m sympathetic, but I can’t believe they’re all unfit to work. We’ve got to put some system in place which says, look, please get back to work.”

News that the scale of tax cuts being considered for the March 6 Budget is now smaller than just a few weeks ago met with criticism from some Conservative MPs.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary, and Sir John Redwood, the former trade secretary, issued new calls for sizable tax cuts to kick-start economic growth.

Sir Jacob said: “A recession means tax cuts are more needed to give the economy a boost. Even the late Alistair Darling [the former Labour chancellor] knew this when he cut VAT during the global financial crisis.”

Sir John said: “They’ve got to go for something really significant to get the economy going again. It’s got to be done prudently but it can be done prudently.”

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow chancellor, called a press conference and declared the slump “Rishi’s recession”, noting the economy was smaller now then when the Prime Minister took office in October 2022.

She said voters would repeatedly be asked by Labour “do you and your family feel better off after 14 years of Conservative Government?” in the run-up to the general election, which is expected in the autumn.

Mr Sunak and Mr Hunt are determined to announce tax cuts at the Budget, given Labour still leads the Tories by around 20 percentage points as the election looms closer.

But the amount of money they have to play with via the so-called fiscal headroom – the money left over after making sure that government debt is falling five years from now – has reduced in recent months.

After the Autumn Statement, the fiscal headroom was £13 billion. It then broadly doubled to around £26 billion at the turn of the year, according to economic estimates.

On Wednesday night, Mr Hunt was handed the latest forecasts by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) which had the fiscal headroom figure much smaller, according to Treasury insiders.

That is because the cost of servicing government debt has risen, with markets now predicting overall interest rates and inflation will fall less quickly than was expected at the start of the year.

Quite how much that has shrunk the fiscal headroom in the latest round of OBR forecasts is unclear, with figures close to Mr Hunt not being drawn on the specifics.

Economic forecasts suggest it is once again back around the figure last autumn, which was £13 billion.


Mel Stride
Long-term sickness benefits are stalling the engine of growth


Read more

Treasury analysis shows a 2p cut in the basic rate of income tax would cost £13 billion while a 2p cut in employees’ National Insurance would cost £9 billion.

Both are for now deemed unaffordable, given Treasury figures judge that billions of pounds in headroom must be kept in the reserve at the Budget to keep markets calm.

The economic forecasts could yet improve between now and the Budget. At least three more sets of figures are expected to be handed over by the OBR.

Other desired tax moves, such as changing the point at which child benefit payments are withdrawn from families or accepting to boost the property market, are seen as less likely.

Award-winning young farmer shot dead in field

A murder investigation has been launched after an award-winning young farmer was shot dead.

Charles Kinston, 23, was found in a field off Brizlincote Lane in Bretby, a tiny village on the border of Derbyshire and Staffordshire.

Police were called to the farmland on January 29 shortly before 6.30pm and the farmer was pronounced dead at the scene. News of the incident was only released by detectives this week.

A man in his 30s was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder and has been released on bail while an investigation continues.

Mr Kinston had won a third-place accolade in a Farmers Weekly inventions competition in 2020 for a Land Rover Discovery 1 300Tdi he had modified for calf-feeding rounds.

DCI Matt Croome, from the Derbyshire Police’s East Midlands Major Crime Team, said: “We understand that this incident has had a significant impact on Mr Kinston’s family, friends and the wider community.

“Due to the ongoing investigation, we are limited about the information that can be passed to the public at this time. However, I want to be clear that the two individuals involved in this incident are known to one another, and officers have mitigated any risk to the wider public at this time.

“Any further updates will be passed as soon as the investigation allows.”

According to MailOnline, the field where Mr Kinston was shot was not owned by him but was near to his farm.

‘Renowned farmer’

Many in the local community have paid tribute, with friends recalling going on expeditions for the Duke of Edinburgh Award with him, playing rugby together, and an “intensely funny” character.

One woman who knows his family told the website: “He was a renowned farmer, a decent young man, who did his family and the farming community proud.”

Hannah Davies, Mr Kinston’s sister, thanked the Leicestershire and Rutland Young Farmers Club, saying: “My brother had the best times of his life through young farmers and those he met through the organisation”.

In their own tribute, the club posted on Facebook: “The source of laughter for a strong club, Charles prided himself on enthusiasm and passion for everything he put his mind to! A man with a comeback for any witty comment, who devoted his love to everyone around him especially his beloved sidekick Beth and son, Albert.

“The Kinston family wish to have their privacy respected at this difficult time, however they know Charles had many memories around the county.”

Baker Street murder solved after 30 years thanks to bloody footprint

A 30-year-old cold-case murder near the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes was solved after detectives traced the killer’s bloody footprint at the scene of the crime.

Sandip Patel, who ran errands for his father’s newsagent Sherlock Holmes News on Baker Street, in central London, stabbed Marina Koppel, a prostitute, more than 140 times in her rented flat in nearby Chiltern Street on Aug 8 1994.

The 21-year-old student’s finger marks were found on a carrier bag in Koppel’s kitchen but he was not treated as a suspect at the time.

He was charged with her murder last year after his DNA was matched to hair on the victim’s ring and he was linked by a bloody footprint on a skirting board.

During the attack, he forced Koppel to give up her pin number and used the bank card to withdraw money near his home, it was alleged.

Patel, now 51, had denied murder but declined to give evidence in his defence.

The Old Bailey jury took three hours and 10 minutes to find him guilty.

Hotel chambermaid

Jurors heard that Colombian-born Mrs Koppel had met her husband David while working as a hotel chambermaid.

She later worked as a masseuse and offered sexual services to around 100 “well-to-do” men “if the price was right”, jurors were told.

Prosecutor William Emlyn Jones KC said little was known of Mrs Koppel’s last movements.

On the evening of Aug 7 1994, she had entered a poker tournament at the Victoria Sporting Club casino and met a client at a Heathrow hotel before returning to London.

The mother-of-two’s last known sighting was a visit to Midland Bank on Baker Street at 1.42pm the following day.

That evening, Mr Koppel returned to her flat near Baker Street Tube station to find his wife had been murdered.

She was covered in blood and wearing only black lace-up lingerie that she might wear if she was expecting one of her clients, jurors were told.

‘Sustained and savage’ attack

Mr Emlyn Jones said she had been stabbed more than 140 times during the “sustained and savage” attack.

He told jurors: “Marina Koppel was brutally murdered.

“It has taken a terribly long time to solve it, but we now have evidence that she had this defendant’s hair stuck to the ring she was wearing when she was attacked and killed; and his bare foot was pressed against the skirting board next to her.

“And that, the prosecution say, can only be because it was him who killed her all those years ago.”

Even though Patel’s finger marks were found on an unbranded plastic bag in the kitchen, he was not treated as a suspect because he would have likely handled bags from nearby Sherlock Holmes News.

Patel only became a confirmed suspect in 2022 after his DNA was matched to a hair found by a scientist on the ring in 2008.

Although technology was still not advanced enough then for scientists to get a DNA profile, it was preserved until 2022 and re-examined.

Made a suspect

The bloody footprint was found at the scene in 1994 and matched to Patel after he was made a suspect, the prosecutor said.

Mr Emlyn Jones told jurors: “You may have little trouble concluding that if those footprints were made in Marina’s wet blood, then that can only be because they were left by her killer — someone who was in that room, barefoot, at the time of her blood being on the skirting board.

“All these years later, they have been identified – they are the defendant’s prints – they were made by the sole of his left foot.”

Following his arrest, Patel denied knowing the victim but said he would run errands for his father.

He was rearrested in 2023 after his footprint was identified and answered “no comment” to questions.

Mr Koppel died in 2005, never discovering who murdered his wife.

Highly intelligent

Members of the victim’s family, Mary and Martin Koppel, said: “Marina Koppel, our sister-in-law, was an extremely bright, highly intelligent and charismatic person, who saw good in her family and all people she met.

“She wanted to give them everything they needed, especially her two children and nephew who grew up in Colombia.

“Her family and friends would have been in a much better place because of her abundance of energy for life had she not died.

“Marina was a daughter, a sister, a mother, a loving aunt, a daughter-in-law and a sister-in-law who was much loved by all of us as she loved all of us.”

Patel, of Finchley Road, north London, looked up at the public gallery as the verdict was delivered.

He was remanded into custody to be sentenced at the Old Bailey on Friday.

Four-week waits for GP appointment at record high, NHS figures show

Four-week waits for a GP appointment hit a record high in 2023, NHS figures show.

More than 17.6 million appointments took place at least 28 days after being booked in England in 2023.

It is the highest on record, accounting for more than one in 20 of the almost 348 million appointments that GP teams delivered in 2023.

Patient groups said the figures showed “how the family doctor is fast becoming an endangered species”, while MPs called it “scandalous”.

A report by the King’s Fund think tank earlier this week found that access to GP, dental and other community services was the public’s biggest complaint about the NHS.

About 50,000 people every day in 2023 had appointments that they had been forced to wait more than a month for, the data showed.

This was up by 38 per cent on 2022, when 12.8 million appointments took place more than 28 days after booking – 3.9 per cent of the total – and up on the previous record of 15.2 million set in 2019.

The NHS says it is delivering more GP appointments than ever and that some non-urgent appointments, such as vaccinations, are booked further in advance.

But despite conducting more appointments in 2023 than any previous year, the fewest proportion of them were delivered on the same day since 2019, at just 43 per cent.

Almost one in five patients were waiting for more than two weeks as 61 million patient appointments took place more than 14 days after being booked which was up by a fifth on 2022.

A year of repeated strikes

in 2023 Steve Barclay, then health secretary, said all non-urgent appointments should be delivered within two weeks and anything urgent should be on the same day a patient requested it.

The NHS has had a year of repeated strikes by junior doctors, including some GPs. Surgeries also saw an influx of patients whose hospital appointments and procedures had been cancelled.

Dennis Reed, director of the over-60s campaign group Silver Voices, said: “These are appalling and shameful statistics which reveal how the family doctor is fast becoming an endangered species.

“Few medical conditions which are not routine check-ups can sustain a four-week wait without becoming more serious and costing the NHS more in the long term,

“Primary care is disintegrating before our eyes and we will soon have GP deserts like the situation in NHS dentistry.”

He called on political leaders to come up with a recovery plan “that doesn’t take the next decade to achieve” and to make a timely face-to-face appointment “a legal right”.

In December 2023 two-thirds of appointments were in person, the lowest proportion of any month since August 2022. Overall in 2023 69 per cent of appointments were in person.

Went to A&E instead

A recent study of remote GP appointments by the University of Oxford found that “deaths and serious harms” had occurred because of wrong or missed diagnoses and delayed referrals.

Analysis of the national GP patient survey by the IPPR think tank found that one in eight people who could not get a doctor’s appointment went to A&E instead.

Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the situation was “scandalous”.

He said: “Patients across the country are in a desperate position. It has become commonplace to struggle day after day to get a GP appointment, leaving people in pain and discomfort.

“It should be a given that people can see their GP when they need to.”

The data covers all appointments carried out by GP staff including doctors, nurses and physician associates. The proportion of appointments carried out by a family doctor fell from 49 per cent in 2022 to 46.5 per cent in 2023.

Dame Andrea Leadsom, the health minister for primary care, said the latest data showed the Government had “met our target of 50 million additional general practice appointments several months ahead of schedule”.

She said the NHS workforce plan would “transform GP services nationwide” with 6,000 extra training places for GPs by 2031, while the Pharmacy First initiative, where pharmacists can diagnose and treat seven common conditions, would also free up slots.

However, a report by the King’s Fund, published on Wednesday, called for a radical overhaul of GP services to stop the exodus of doctors.

It found that successive governments had failed to deliver on promises to “bring care closer to home” over the past 30 years, with an ever larger proportion of NHS funding directed to hospitals instead of GPs.

The report revealed that while the number of consultants working in hospitals had increased by 18 per cent since 2016-17, the number of GPs had grown by just 4 per cent, despite the record demand caused by an ageing population with more complex health needs.

‘Government shouts at them’

Beccy Baird, lead researcher and senior fellow at the King’s Fund, told The Telegraph: “We are training more GPs than ever but we’re not holding on to them.”

She said working in the community came with more risk but lower pay and status.

“There’s also a lack of support from the commissioning organisations [local NHS leaders]. A lot of their focus is on hospitals, and that’s because the Government shouts at them if their A&E waits are bad and their ambulances are waiting,” she said.

“There’s also a misconception about what the public cares about. Most people are really worried about access to general practice and dentistry far more than anything else.”

The report concluded that the lack of investment in GP services “must rank as one of the most significant and long-running failures of policy and implementation in the NHS and social care over the past 30 years”.

Prof Kamila Hawthorne, head of the Royal College of GPs, said that a record number of appointments had been delivered in 2023, despite having “642 fewer fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs” than in 2019. There were 27,487 as of December.

She said: “We urgently need to address the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams are working under, and which are the reasons many patients struggle to access our care. Arbitrary access targets that might make good soundbites are not the solution.”

Paul McCartney reunited with bass guitar stolen in 1972

Sir Paul McCartney’s lost bass guitar has been found in a loft in East Sussex, 52 years after it was stolen from the back of a van.

The Höfner bass, valued by the company at a minimum of £10 million, has been returned to the former Beatle, who is “thrilled” by the find.

It was handed in by Cathy Guest, from Hastings, after she read that Sir Paul dreamed of being reunited with the instrument, which he bought for £30 in 1961 and kept throughout the Beatles years.

McCartney was reunited with the instrument in December, but it has taken a further two months to authenticate it.

Höfner had planned to announce the news, but Mrs Guest’s 21-year-old son, Ruaidhri, pre-empted the announcement by posting pictures of the bass on social media with the caption: “To my friends and family, I inherited this item which has been returned to Paul McCartney. Share the news.”

Ruaidhri, who runs a YouTube channel devoted to Doctor Who, posed with the guitar in one picture. In another, he balanced a hat on top of it.

The guitar’s journey from the back of a van to the Guest family loft was traced by a team that included Nick Wass, a Höfner executive, and investigators Scott and Naomi Jones, in what was dubbed the Lost Bass Project.

The trail began when Ian Horne, a sound engineer with Wings, read of the search and came forward to say that the bass had been stolen from the back of his van in Notting Hill, west London, on Oct 10 1972.

From there, the investigators identified the thief. Ms Jones said: “The thief lived in Cambridge Gardens in Ladbroke Grove. From his top floor flat, he could see the musicians coming and going down below, and where the roadies parked their vans.

“This man was an opportunist thief who stole to provide for his wife and three children. In 1972, Notting Hill was a poor place.”

The thief then sold the bass to Ron Guest, the landlord of his local pub.

Scott Jones said: “Days later, the landlord agreed to buy it, and the bass that powered Beatlemania changed hands in a West London pub for ‘not much money’ – plus a few free pints.”

The bass then allegedly passed from Ron Guest to his eldest son, Graham, who went to university in Nottingham and died in a car rally in 1976.

It was then given to Graham’s brother, Hadyn, who died two years ago. Hadyn’s wife, Cathy, approached McCartney’s team with the news that the bass was in her possession.

All about that bass

A spokesman for McCartney said: “Following the launch of last year’s Lost Bass project, Paul’s 1961 Höfner 500/1 bass guitar, which was stolen in 1972, has been returned. The guitar has been authenticated by Höfner and Paul is incredibly grateful to all those involved.”

The investigators had expected the search to take them far and wide, and were amazed to find that the instrument had been in the hands of one family, and ended up in a house only a few miles from McCartney’s home in Peasmarsh, East Sussex.

Ms Jones said: “This bass echoes with the sound of some of the most famous and important songs ever written. And then it ended up, like so many unused or unwanted possessions, up in the loft, in a typical house, on an ordinary British street.”

The bass can now be returned to Höfner in Germany for some minor repairs. Mr Wass said: “Undoubtedly, this is the bass that was stolen from Paul McCartney in 1972.

Unique features

“There are too many unique features that would be impossible to replicate. In particular, the odd tuners and the discoloured treble pickup are obvious indicators. The overall spraying is entirely consistent with contemporary photographs. This would be extremely hard to mimic, with the sprayer having only one chance to get it right.

“As found, the bass has all the appearance of an instrument that has been stored for about 50 years.”

Ian Horne, the sound engineer who had always felt guilty about the theft, said: “When it was stolen in 1972, Paul told me not to worry, and I carried on working with him and Wings for another six years.

“But I’ve never forgotten about the bass, and I’ve carried the guilt all my life. It was stolen on my watch so to help get the bass back today, I’m thrilled. It’s a huge weight off my mind.”

Being good-looking is a bad career move if you went to a lowly university

Attractive people might seem to have hit the jackpot in the evolutionary lottery, but when it comes to job hunting, they do not hold all the winning numbers, research suggests.

Cambridge University has discovered that a pretty face can actually prevent people from gaining a job interview if it is not complemented by a good education.

Likewise, more visually-challenged candidates could end up struggling to be hired if they went to a good university.

Experts at Judge Business School, Cambridge believe the phenomenon occurs because hirers become confused by candidates who do not fit into normal expectations.

Attractive people are generally expected to be better educated, and more successful while the opposite is true for unattractive people. When applicants do not follow the pattern, recruiters assume they will be a bad fit for both high and low status positions.

Christopher Marquis, Sinyi professor of Chinese management at Cambridge, said: “Basically, our findings suggest that the inconsistent signals sent by (conflicting) cues lead to more uncertainty for the evaluator and so a lower likelihood of that applicant being selected.

“Our study focuses not only on characteristics such as attractiveness and education, but how particular status combinations fit with the job context involved.”

For the study, the researchers sent 2,095 fictitious CVs to employers in China, where headshots are included in job applications.

The resumes were completed as if from eight different candidates who varied in sex, university status and attractiveness.

The team received 193 callbacks from companies and found a “striking pattern”. The four most successful candidates had either a combination of lower university status and lower attractiveness or higher university status and higher attractiveness.

In contrast, the four least frequently called-back applicants had lower university status and higher attractiveness, or higher university status and lower attractiveness. There was no difference in sex.

The team believes good-looking people from elite educational institutions send out “unambiguous signals of competence” but both traits must be there to succeed.

More entitled and less hardworking

Some studies have shown that more attractive job candidates are more likely to be hired, but others suggest employers might disfavour attractive candidates – perhaps because they perceive them as more entitled and less hardworking, or assume they will have more options and leave quickly.

Previous research has also found that people who look visibly happy are deemed to be more hireable than those with a more sombre expression, be it a frown or serious demeanour.

The University of Toronto found that a smile exudes confidence and willingness in applicants, the study authors said, as well as making a person seem more attractive.

However the University of Maryland discovered that good-looking men are less likely to be given a job in a competitive workplace environment than their plainer competitors.

It was hypothesised that attractive men are often seen as more competent, and so those who will be working alongside them are unlikely to want increased competition.

The Maryland team also found that women considered to be good looking faced a struggle when they applied for jobs more usually associated with men or positions for which appearance was not seen as being important to the job.

The new study will be published in the American Journal of Sociology.