INDEPENDENT 2024-03-15 16:06:17


Expected general election date revealed after PM rules out May poll

Rishi Sunak is working towards an autumn general election on 10 October, The Independent has been told.

The prime minister on Thursday ruled out a snap election on 2 May amid mounting speculation in Westminster that he wanted to coincide with the local elections.

Mr Sunak did not indiciate when the election would be called, but Downing Street sources told The Independent that the date has been pencilled in for the second Thursday in October.

It is understood that the PM is unlikely to wait until mid-November, since it would clash with US presidential election.

The October date would also throw party conference season into disarray, which is a key opportunity for all the major parties to campaign and fundraise ahead of the upcoming election.

No 10 dismissed the claim as “speculation” but did not deny the date. A government source said: “The PM will announce the date. Until then everything else is speculation.”

The PM had previously said that it was his “working assumption” that the general election would be held in the second half of the year.

But there was increasing speculation that it would be brought forward as the Conservative Party sought to reap an advantage at the ballot box from the national insurance cut announced at the Budget.

Speaking on Thursday in an interview with ITV News West Country, Mr Sunak said: “In several weeks’ time we’ve got elections for police and crime commissioners, for local councils, for mayors across the country – they’re important elections.”

Asked whether there would be a general election on the same day, he said: “There won’t be an election on that day.”

He did not rule out a wider spring or summer vote.

Mr Sunak has come under fire for refusing to name the date that the country can expect to take to the polls.

Labour’s national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden said the British people had “the right” to expect a general election on 2 May and called on the prime minister to name the date.

“Rishi Sunak should stop squatting in Downing Street and give the country what it desperately needs – a chance for change with a Labour government. The prime minister needs to finally come clean with the public and name the date of the election now,” he said.

A Labour source told The Independent that the party was ready for any eventuality.

They said: “We remain ready for all scenarios. The public wants change and we’re ready to deliver it. Sunak needs to end the speculation and name the date.”

British woman murdered in France ‘dream home’ after asking for tape

The mentally ill neighbour of a British woman who was living her “dream life” in a quaint French hamlet was sentenced to life in prison for strangling and beating her to death.

Susan Higginbotham, 67, was found dead in September 2021 in her home in Esclottes, a village of just about 150 people, 35 miles east of Bordeaux.

She was attacked by her neighbour Hicham Bahloul, 42, who had returned after spending almost half of his life in psychiatric hospital care, reported Connexion France.

He suffered from several psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, the court heard.

On Wednesday, Bahloul was sentenced to 30 years in prison after he confessed to killing Higginbotham and asked his lawyers to request for a maximum sentence.

The British pensioner moved to France in 2016 and was described as “happy” and “funny”, and “a good friend” who was “living her dream life” in the country, the court heard.

She lived in Mansfield in Nottinghamshire and worked as a finance director in a company before moving to France.

Bahloul told the Lot-et-Garonne Assize court that he attacked the woman after he was annoyed with her for repeatedly asking to borrow Sellotape, the report said.

He later said he murdered her because he wanted to get away from his family and spend his time in jail.

The investigators revealed graphic details of the woman’s murder during which she was strangled with a “piece of cord” and punched and kicked more than a dozen times.

“I have a client who feels safe in prison and wants to stay there. He struggles with freedom,” his lawyer said, adding that it is the first time in his 27 years of career he has seen such a case.

Bahloul told the court that “If you let me out, I’ll do it again”.

“The need to attack others has been part of his life for years. He attacked many people during his various hospitalisations, patients and nursing staff. He took pleasure in it,” his lawyer said.

One of Higginbotham’s friends from England who was present during the hearing told Ouest France: “She often asked me: ‘Am I making the right decision?’, and I replied: ‘Absolutely’.”

The woman’s brother who lived in England remained in the country due to poor health.

Diane Abbott is a hero to many – but a headache for Labour

Diane Abbott is a trailblazer. She is a hero of the anti-racist struggle. So said Apsana Begum, the Labour MP, on Newsnight, and she is not wrong. Abbott stood for something and fought for it, and it is partly because of her that the British parliament is more diverse than it has ever been.

But that does not mean that Labour’s disciplinary procedures should be overridden.

That she has been the victim of Tory donor Frank Hester’s alleged racism should have no bearing on how Labour deals with her own failings. Indeed, she has been the victim of racism and sexism all her life, which she has borne with dignity and courage, but that is no mitigation for the extraordinary letter she wrote to The Observerlast year, for which she was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party. That was the letter in which she said that Jews experienced “prejudice”, but not “racism”. She “withdrew” it, “disassociated” herself from it and apologised.

William swerves Harry at Diana tribute – as Dutch king mocks Kate over photoshop furore

William swerved his brother Harry at a memorial event for their late mother last night, fuelling speculation of a rift between the two princes.

The Duke of Cambridge attended the event at the Science Museum in London on Thursday night in person, where he gave a speech to mark the Diana Legacy Award’s 25th anniversary.

He said his mother taught him that “everyone has the potential to give something back”.

Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, addressed those in the audience via video link after William had left.

He spoke for about half an hour after the ceremony concluded and said: “Thank you very much for inspiring so many others and at the same time protecting my mother’s legacy, I really appreciate that.”

Elsewhere, the Dutch king poked fun at the Princess of Wales’s photo-editing row.

King Willem-Alexander was greeting members of the public in Zutphen when a little girl made a reference to a photograph of his whole family. “Really? At least I didn’t Photoshop it,” he said.

Earlier this week several major picture agencies pulled the first official photograph of Kate after her surgery amid concerns that it could have been manipulated.

The princess later apologised, saying: “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing.”

Why Kate doesn’t quite have the same right to privacy as we do

Is this 1936 all over again? Is there a secret royal scandal brewing about which we, as loyal subjects, will be kept in the dark until a foreign newspaper or obscure bishop blurts it all out?

If you believe that, then happy hunting. Five minutes on Google or Twitter/X will provide you with enough circumstantial “evidence” to keep you absorbed for days. You, too, can become an expert in lesser-known abdominal medical conditions, the esoteric byways of the Norfolk aristocracy, and the intricacies of what can be amateurishly achieved with Photoshop.

Or perhaps 1995 is a more useful reference point? A vulnerable young woman has married into the royal family and is struggling with trying to survive in a constant, 24/7 unforgiving glare while attempting to create something that passes for a normal life for her children in a weirdly dysfunctional family.

Island-hopping in the Ionian sea: a guide to Greece’s idyllic islands

Mamma Mia! It’s time to start thinking about a summer holiday, and there’s nowhere more picturesque and dreamy than a Greek island. With an estimated 1,600 isles, although not all are inhabited, there’s plenty to choose from that guarantee sparkling seas, golden sands, rugged nature, delicious food, and a warm welcome.

To help you find your ideal Greek island holiday this summer, travel experts Jet2holidays offer great-value breaks in more than 50 amazing destinations, including 21 in Greece. Hotspots and hidden gems, all boards and budgets, flexible stays and fab flight times – there’s something for everyone. With just a £60pp deposit*, 22kg baggage included and flexible monthly payments** to help spread the cost of your well-deserved holiday, it’s never been easier to get your next Greek getaway booked. 

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Here’s our pick of some of the best islands Greece has to offer…

Stunning beaches are a given in Greece, and in Corfu, the most beautiful include Agios Georgios, a long, horseshoe-shaped bay with a mix of sand and pebbles fringing calm, clear waters. Down the northwest coast is the pretty village of Palaiokastritsa which boasts six sheltered bays and offers boat trips to the fascinating Blue Caves. For a beach as romantic as its name, head to the Canal d’Amour, where a series of unique rock formations create intimate, narrow channels; legend has it that couples who swim between the sea walls together, stay together!

Explore the cobbled streets of Corfu Old Town, and take in pastel-coloured Venetian architecture while looking out for the new and old Fortresses which loom over the harbour. Base yourself at the swish Olivar Suites on the southeastern coast, a restful haven set in olive groves, away from the bustle.

Lefkas, also known as Lefkada, is an island connected to the Greek mainland by a causeway. Head to the beach at Porto Katsiki, located below a set of huge, looming cliffs which create a unique and dramatic landscape. Another gem is nearby Egremni, a classic, Caribbean-style stretch of white sand, fringing crystal-clear turquoise water, while if you fancy windsurfing, head to Vasiliki. On the east coast, check into the four-star, beachfront Porto Galini Sea Side Resort and Spa; handily, it’s just 15 minutes’ drive from Lefkada Town.

Also formerly under Venetian rule, landmarks including Church of the Pantokrator and the ruins of Agia Mavra Castle are worth a look. Escape to a pretty coastal village, such as Agios Nikitas or Nikiana, where you can take a table at a seafront taverna, and tuck into local speciality Englouvi lentils served with riganada (bread with olive oil, vinegar, and oregano). For a foray into nature, head to the spectacular waterfalls of Dimossari, near Nydri village.

Also known as Zakynthos, Zante is a popular island in the Ionian Sea, with a plethora of alluring beaches. The most famous is Navagio, which is surrounded by dramatic, honey-coloured cliffs and often called ‘Shipwreck Beach’ after the cargo boat which ran aground there in 1980, another must-visit is Agios Nikolaos, a serene pebbly stretch on Zante’s northern shore.

Stay at the luxury Domes Aulus Zante Autograph Collection, a laidback beachfront paradise on the south coast, near the quiet resort town of Kalamaki, where you can spot endangered loggerhead turtles. Zante has its own Blue Caves, a set of geological formations turned azure by the reflections of the sea, while its capital, Zakynthos Town, offers architecture influenced by its former Venetian, French and English rulers. Don’t miss the imposing Church of Agios Dionysios with its signature bell tower, and the ruins of the old Venetian Castle.

Sprinkled with Hollywood stardust, scenic Kefalonia was the location for the Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz movie, Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. Key scenes were shot in the harbour town of Sami, the stunning Antisamos beach and in the picturesque fishing village of Fiscardo. Kefalonia’s jagged coastline is made up of limestone cliffs, bays and strips of dazzling white sand, like Myrtos Beach in the north. Other standout beaches include Skala, bordered by thick trees and rocky outcrops, and the unusually named Xi beach, where white cliffs contrast with rare, rust-coloured sand.

Stay at the luxurious, contemporary, adults-only Thalassa Boutique Hotel Kefalonia on the southwest coast, a short drive from capital, Argostoli, where you can explore the Archaeological Museum, Municipal Theatre and historic castles and monasteries. For something more adventurous, explore the vast azure lake inside Melissani cave or hike Mount Ainos, the island’s highest peak, covered in pine forests and home to wild horses. Visit a winery such as Robola or Haritatos for a tasting.

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The initiative to tackle ‘extremism’ is little more than a distraction

Extremism” is something that (almost) everyone is against, it is impossible to define – and difficult to neutralise. Michael Gove, secretary of state for communities, has made a much-trailed attempt to solve the conundrum of extremism and, in large part, he has failed. To be fair, it is not entirely Mr Gove’s fault because all he has been trying to do is turn the curiously aimless speech Rishi Sunak made on the steps of 10 Downing Street after the Rochdale by-election into concrete policy.

The Rochdale contest was a fiasco, a veritable festival of extremism and the election of George Galloway a minor disaster, but there’s nothing in what Mr Gove proposes that would stop anything like that from happening again. Indeed, it is quite possible that the government’s new approach will do more harm than good: needlessly stigmatising Muslim groups, feeding the victim syndrome and paranoiac appeal of the far right, and generally dragging the kind of identitarian politics that ministers usually deprecate into the centre of political debate.

Mr Gove has issued a list of five groups that could be deemed unsuitable to receive public funds or for the government to “engage” with. He also said they would be investigated over extremism fears.

Abbott looks set to regain the Labour whip but others are out of luck

Hateful abuse from a major Tory donor, Frank Hester, directed at Diane Abbott has provided a timely reminder that she has been on the receiving end of racism and misogyny since she became Britain’s first female black MP, in 1987.

She is also now one of the longer-serving MPs of any party but, despite the recent wave of sympathy, her future parliamentary career remains in extreme jeopardy. She had the Labour whip removed last year after she wrote a letter to a newspaper that her party leadership considered carried antisemitic sentiments, was out under investigation, but there is no sign of a conclusion to that process or any indication if she will be allowed back into the parliamentary Labour party. Indeed, it seems that mystery often surrounds such disciplinary matters in the people’s party, despite it being led by a distinguished lawyer. Some interesting questions arise…