The Telegraph 2024-03-05 22:30:30

Labour claims Tories planning May election as Hunt to cut NI by 2p

Labour today claimed the Tories are preparing for a general election in May as Jeremy Hunt gets set to announce a 2p cut to National Insurance at the Budget tomorrow. 

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow paymaster general, said he believed a May contest is now the Conservative Party’s “preferred choice” as he challenged Rishi Sunak to set a date. 

He told Times Radio: “I think everything the Conservatives are doing in terms of both their advertising on social media and their political positioning suggests to me that May is their preferred choice and I think we are heading for a general election in May.” 

Greg Hands, a trade minister, told Times Radio he did not believe there would be a general election in May. 

The speculation over the timing of the election came as Government sources confirmed Mr Hunt will announce a 2p cut to National Insurance tomorrow in a move which will be worth £450 for the average worker. 

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

License this content

Live Taylor Swift urges fans to vote in Super Tuesday primary elections

Taylor Swift has told her millions of fans to vote in Super Tuesday as polls open across the US for the biggest night of the primary campaign.

The pop megastar, whose “Eras” tour is the highest-grossing in global history, told 282 million Instagram followers to vote for those who best represented their interests in a post to her social media.

She stopped short of endorsing a candidate but in the past has spoken out against Donald Trump. Mr Trump is expected to comprehensively beat his rival Nikki Haley to take him within touching distance of the Republican presidential nomination.

Swift wrote on Instagram: “I wanted to remind you guys to vote the people who most represent YOU into power.”

The pop star support for Joe Biden during the 2020 election. Mr Biden is the presumptive nominee for the Democrats, and is likely to win all 16 states voting today.

Follow for the latest updates.

License this content

Michael Sheen’s controversial drama becomes one of BBC’s biggest flops

A Michael Sheen drama which imagined civil uprising in Wales over the future of the Port Talbot steelworks has become one of the BBC’s biggest flops.

Only 697,000 viewers watched the third and final episode of The Way, which was hailed by the corporation as “ambitious, powerful and surprising”.

It is believed to be the lowest ever rating for a prime time BBC One drama finale.

In Monday’s 9pm slot, The Way was trounced by the launch of Celebrity Big Brother on ITV, which drew an audience of 2.3 million.

It was also beaten by The Push: Murder on the Cliff on Channel 4 (992,000 viewers), Inside the Force: 24/7 on Channel 5 (939,000) and a repeat of Inside Our Autistic Minds on BBC Two (768,000), according to overnight figures from Broadcast.

The BBC said that audience behaviour had changed and many people would have watched the series on-demand on iPlayer, rather than in the 9pm slot.

A spokesman for the broadcaster said: “The Way has been available to view in full on BBC iPlayer for more than a fortnight. Overnight ratings no longer provide a full picture of all of those who have watched in an on-demand world.”

However, The Way launched with only 1.7 million viewers, below the average for the slot. Other dramas available as on-demand box sets have fared much better: ITV’s Mr Bates vs the Post Office was a ratings hit with a launch audience of 3.9 million in January and added millions more via catch-up.

The Way is a mix of thriller, Welsh mythology and documentary-style imagery, written by James Graham and co-created by Adam Curtis, the cult documentary film-maker.

Lindsay Salt, the BBC’s director of drama, told an industry gathering last month that the broadcaster should “take the risks others won’t” in its programming-making and deliver dramas that “push the boundaries and venture into the creative unknown”.

Sheen directed the drama and appears as the ghost of a steelworker. The drama imagines a brutal government crackdown in Wales – borders are closed and anyone wanting to cross into England must make a perilous journey as a refugee.

Although it had been in the making for several years, its broadcast coincided with the real-life news that Tata Steel is to push ahead with plans to close its blast furnaces in Port Talbot, with the expected loss of 3,000 jobs.

The drama attracted criticism from politicians after Sheen, who lives close to the town, said in a promotional interview that “the people of Port Talbot have been let down”.

Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, wrote a newspaper article in response headlined: “Whatever Michael Sheen says, the truth is we’re pouring millions in to save steel jobs in Britain.”

Sheen told The Times ahead of The Way’s broadcast that timing was an “unfortunate coincidence” but that the fictional story “has come bizarrely very close to the truth. In no way is this a blueprint to how people should react, but you don’t know, do you?”

In the drama, uncertainty over the future of the foreign-owned steelworks leads to a strike. Soon, civil unrest has spread throughout Wales and the government puts the army on the streets.

Sheen said: “We wanted to get this out quickly. The concern was that if it was too close to an election, the BBC would get nervous.”

Only two BBC One dramas have recorded lower ratings in the 9pm slot: an episode of 2021 series The Pact in 2021 (663,000 viewers) and last year’s The Following Events Are Based On a Pack of Lies (645,000). Audiences for both rose for the final episodes, while The Way’s audience fell.

License this content

‘Scandalous’ pothole repair lasts only nine days before crumbling

A pothole repair lasted only nine days before it crumbled, a council has admitted.

Pete Munro, a plumber and resident of Three Oaks, in East Sussex, took a picture of the freshly Tarmacked surface soon after council contractors had filled in the pothole.

As an experiment, he went back to the spot two days later to take a comparative picture – which showed that large cracks had already started to appear.

The 49-year-old returned again three days later to find even more cracks and a small hole in the repair. On his final visit, nine days after the job was completed, he found the hole had deteriorated and reported it for repair again.

Mr Munro said the episode was an indictment of the state of Britain’s broken and neglected roads.

Last month, the RAC revealed that local council road maintenance in England dropped by 45 per cent last year compared with five years ago.

There were almost 630,000 potholes reported to local authorities across the country, costing drivers as much as £500 million in repair bills.

Residents called the repair job “scandalous” and accused council officials of “pouring taxpayers’ money down a bottomless pothole”.

Mr Munro said he often walks around the village to look for potholes to report to East Sussex county council. On his last visit, he counted 19 that needed logging.

He said: “Ironically, the pothole on Moor Lane I took photos of was not on that list. I saw some contractors repairing this pothole. It took them less than a minute to do.

“A couple of hours after they left, I went and took a picture. At that moment I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how long the repairs last for. I just had a feeling this one wasn’t going to last long.

“It’s a shambles. They can’t be repairing potholes properly because they are failing so quickly, and the contractors have to go back and fill them in again. They are chasing their tails. It’s no wonder why there are so many potholes in our roads.”

Mr Munro posted his photos on social media and wrote: “This is a permanent pothole repair between Three Oaks and Westfield. We will never have safe roads while ESCC [East Sussex county council] allows our roads to be repaired like this.”

In reply, Guy Harris, from nearby Rye, wrote: “This is a powerful commentary. It’s a painful display of our money being poured into a bottomless pothole.”

A spokesman for East Sussex county council’s highways department said: “We are aware of the failed repair on Moor Lane, which was identified through our regular quality inspections. Whilst it is regrettable that this pothole repair has failed, we have instructed our contractor to return and carry out a more substantial repair.”

License this content

Hotel shampoo bottles and restaurant sauce sachets to be banned as part of EU green drive

Sachets of sauce and small bottles of shampoo will be banned from European restaurants and hotels after a deal was struck to ban single-use plastics in the EU.

Belgium, negotiating on behalf of EU member states, reached provisional agreement with the European Parliament on the law to cut packaging waste late on Monday.

Negotiators agreed on packaging waste reduction targets of 5 per cent by 2030, and 15 per cent by 2040, with a commitment that all packaging should be recyclable by 2030.

They also agreed that empty space should make up no more than half of packaged goods, a move intended to stop the use of oversized boxes for online deliveries.

From Jan 1 2030, mini shampoo bottles will not be allowed in hotels and neither will plastic shrink wrap around suitcases in airports.

Restaurants will be banned from offering sauces such as ketchup and mayonnaise in plastic sachets, unless they are takeaways.

‘Forever chemicals’ to be prohibited

The ban will also apply to single-use plastic items such as disposable plates, cups and boxes used by fast food restaurants, and lightweight bags, such as those offered in markets for groceries.

There will also be a ban on “forever chemicals” (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances or PFASs) in food contact packaging.

The deal comes after the European Commission called for a revamp of packaging rules in 2022. Packaging waste has grown by more than 20 per cent in the EU over the last decade and each European generates almost 419lb of packaging waste per year.

The targets will not apply to very small businesses.

But the agreement still needs approval from the European Parliament and EU governments, and that is not guaranteed as EU green rules come under increasing pressure from Right-wing parties.

Conservative forces have argued they are too burdensome during the cost of living crisis.

A UK ban on some single-use plastics came into force in October last year. It banned, among other items, single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, polystyrene cups and food containers in England. As things stand, the EU ban goes further and covers more items.

European legislation will apply in Northern Ireland

The European legislation will apply in Northern Ireland, which continues to follow more than 300 EU rules as part of post-Brexit trading arrangements, unless a majority in Stormont attempts to block it.

“The UK does have some single-use plastic bans in place but overall progress is slower than the EU,” said Paula Chin, senior policy adviser at WWF UK.

“We want to see more ambitious legislation to drive greater waste prevention through eco-design and enabling reuse and refill systems for many packaged products.”

A Defra spokesman said the UK had introduced one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads and a plastic packaging tax, as well as “far reaching bans and restrictions on polluting single-use plastics, including cutlery, balloon sticks, polystyrene cups and food containers”.

“We continue to work with industry and international partners to tackle plastic pollution and meet our environmental targets,” he said.

License this content

Dan Wootton quits GB News to launch independent show

Dan Wootton, the TV presenter, has left GB News to launch his own independent platform, he has said.

Wootton, 40, announced on X, formerly Twitter, that he was quitting the channel in the wake of a “chilling” Ofcom report, released on Monday, which found that Laurence Fox’s misogynistic comments on his show broke broadcasting rules.

Fox asked: “Who would want to shag that?” about journalist Ava Evans on the channel’s Dan Wootton Tonight show during an episode on Sept 26.

Fox and Wootton, who both later apologised, were suspended by the channel after the broadcast, which received 8,867 complaints. Fox was later sacked by GB News.

Wootton said in his statement: “I have left GB News to launch my own independent Outspoken platform which will, from later this year, feature a brand new daily news and opinion show that will NOT be regulated by Ofcommunist censors.”

License this content

NHS board apologises for slavery links

A Scottish NHS board has made a formal apology over its historical slavery links in Jamaica.

John Connaghan, the chairman of NHS Lothian, said that he wanted to “face up and apologise” after a report revealed that the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, founded in 1729, had been part-funded by a slave plantation left to it in a surgeon’s will.

As part of efforts to “make amends”, a report suggests that NHS staff could be sent to work in hospitals near what was once the Red Hill pen in Jamaica, the slavery estate which provided rental income to a previous incarnation of the hospital.

However, the health board was accused of a dereliction of its duties by sinking resources into addressing historical slavery links, rather than the turmoil in the modern-day health service.

NHS Lothian last week organised an “equality and diversity conference” at which Prof Connaghan offered his formal slavery apology.

Stephen Kerr, the Tory MSP, said that with NHS Lothian facing a £133 million funding gap it was “absurd” to see health bosses “holding conferences to promote woke ideology”.

“Patients are facing longer waiting times and cancelled operations,” he said. “Staffing levels are under threat and the NHS workforce is under intolerable levels of stress.

“I’m proud of the part our country played in ending the slave trade. But the NHS was established in 1948 and we are talking about events that took place over 300 years ago.”

NHS Lothian has also committed to a comprehensive “reparations” scheme going forward which will involve commissioning new artworks.

‘This nonsense needs to stop’

While it is envisaged that much of the work will be funded by NHS Lothian’s official charity, some insiders believe staff time is being wasted and that donations and bequests intended to benefit patients are being misused on the controversial project.

Mr Kerr added: “NHS managers and board members should be ashamed to use scarce resources to hold conferences and sit in meetings to promote this nonsense when hard-pressed nurses, doctors and other staff are being pushed to their very limits to save lives.

“It’s nothing more than a slap in the face to the hardworking staff and their patients. This nonsense needs to stop.”

The hospital has moved twice since it was given the plantation in the will of surgeon Archibald Kerr 275 years ago. The hospital then owned and leased enslaved people until 1834, when slavery was abolished in British colonies.

Last October, the NHS Lothian board approved a plan to make “non-financial reparations” for its role in the slave trade.

It said the plantation provided “considerable wealth”, worth the equivalent of almost £40 million today, to the early Royal Infirmary after it was bequeathed in 1749. It also received other donations from people who benefited from slavery.

A follow-up report released as part of the conference said “every penny of wealth extracted from enslavement is a stain on the Royal Infirmary’s history”.

In discussions about how NHS Lothian could make up for its history, it was suggested that it could fund training for Jamaican medical students or see “NHS staff going to Jamaica or working with hospitals near Red Hill pen”.

In his apology, Prof Connaghan said his organisation needed to “face up to and apologise for the fact that in the early days of this great hospital, wealth to support its activities was drawn from the practice of slavery that we now know was a crime against humanity.”

He added: “As we near our third century we recognise and apologise for these historical acts and the impact on all the people who have suffered because of them.”

License this content