INDEPENDENT 2024-03-16 16:06:13


Six miles of traffic on first day as stretch of M25 shut all weekend

Drivers have been warned to “stay at home” as the unprecedented closure of the M25 is expected to cause a “carmageddon” of gridlock traffic this weekend.

Miles-long tailbacks had already begun on Saturday in the run-up to the five-mile closure between Junctions 10 and 11 in Surrey, which was closed in both directions at 9pm on Friday and will remain shut off until 6am on Monday while a bridge is demolished and a new gantry is installed.

It is the first planned daytime closure of the motorway – which encircles London – since it opened in 1986. National Highways said its modelling indicated vehicles would face delays of up to five hours without mitigation measures, such as urging drivers to stay away.

An 11.5-mile diversion route has been created to direct traffic along A roads  – and Inrix data suggested there were queues of around six miles along the route at Cobham on Saturday.

The M25 normally carries between 4,000 and 6,000 vehicles in each direction every hour from 10am until 9pm at weekends between Junctions 9 and 11.

Universities consider firing staff as foreign student enrollments drop

Hundreds of university staff are facing the risk of being fired as educational institutions scramble to cut costs due to a substantial drop in the admission of foreign students.

University chiefs have warned of cuts, ranging from shutting down courses to shedding teaching staff, due to the institutions being pushed into deficit, The Times reported.

This academic year, at least 15 universities in the UK have announced job cuts and additional cost-saving measures to save finances.

Earlier in March, more than 120 staff at Sheffield Hallam University were served with “risk of redundancy” letters, which gave them until 18 March to apply for voluntary redundancy or one of a “limited number of roles”. The University of Kent in February proposed to cut 58 jobs along with nine courses in an attempt to respond to “financial challenges”.

Due to a freeze in tuition fees, most universities have covered their costs by enrolling overseas students, who pay far more than domestic students.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, overseas students comprised 24 per cent of all students in higher education during the 2021-2022 academic year. However, early acceptance data indicates a 37 per cent decrease in overseas recruits for the upcoming financial year.

Northumbria University said the cuts were necessitated due to “a sudden reduction of the number of students” arriving in the UK from Nigeria, where the currency has collapsed against the pound.

Acceptance data suggests there would be a 71 per cent reduction in the number of students arriving from Nigeria, The Times reported.

John Rushforth, executive secretary of the Committee of University Chairs, said: “I’ve been in higher education for 30 years and senior leaders are more worried than I’ve ever seen them.”

He told the newspaper that “bankruptcy is a realistic possibility” for some universities, which are being pushed to do “really difficult things” to stave that off.

“Taking fewer British students is a last resort but if you’re making a loss on something people have to consider it. Everything has got to be looked at because the situation is so serious,” he said.

“Universities have to think hard about what they want to protect and make choices about divesting themselves of things that are not core to the institution. There will be less choice for students. …Fundamentally, either you have to increase income, or you reduce quality or volume.”

Last year, thousands of University and College Union (UCU) staff participated in a walkout to protest the “punitive” pay deductions imposed for engaging in a summer marking boycott

“I’ve not received full pay for five months for taking part in an entirely lawful boycott,” Tanzil Chowdhury, a senior lecturer in law at Queen Mary told the Independent.

Sainsbury’s and Tesco chaos: CEO apologises after glitch hits deliveries and payments

Thousands of customers have been left without food orders after major supermarkets were affected by a software issue impacting contactless payments.

Sainsbury’s said a technical glitch had affected its ability to fulfil the vast majority of online deliveries today, as customers slammed the supermarket’s “bad service”.

Tesco also said it was working to fix a technical issue which had affected a small proportion of orders set to be delivered on Saturday.

Sainsbury’s page on X was inundated on Saturday with customer complaints their orders had not arrived, or had been delayed.

Retired teacher Iain Sankey claimed the East Dulwich branch had no internet and only accepted cash when he visited on Saturday morning.

“Luckily, I had enough cash but astonished to find that there were still no manned tills in this situation,” he wrote on X.

In one picture taken in Sussex, confused Sainsbury’s customers could be seen having heated discussions with staff as they queued up outside cash machines with trollies full of produce.

Kate mocked over edited photo as Meghan launches lifestyle brand

The King of Netherlands has poked fun at Kate Middleton in the wake of the Mother’s Day photo editing scandal.

The Dutch monarch, Willem-Alexander, appeared to make fun of the Princess of Wales while meeting a group of school children.

King Willem-Alexander was speaking to members of the public in Zutphen when a girl proudly said she had seen a photo of him with his whole family.

The monarch replied: “At least I didn’t photoshop it,” prompting laughter from the crowd.

It comes as Meghan Markle surprised fans and onlookers this week by launching a new lifestyle brand, complete with a social media page and a website.

On Thursday 14 March, the Duchess of Sussex’s newest venture, American Riviera Orchard, hit the internet, and has set tongues wagging with people trying to figure out what the brand will provide.

As of yet, the brand’s Instagram presence consists of nine grid posts that assemble the brand’s title, seemingly embroidered with gold-beige thread onto a cream cloth.

Has Penny Mordaunt’s time finally come?

A coronation for the bearer of the sword of state. The latest scheme to save at least some Conservative MPs from the executioners of the electorate is a plot to replace Rishi Sunak with Penny Mordaunt in a leadership election with only one candidate.

“You could not have another contest and the only possible candidate I can see people uniting behind is Penny,” a source told the Daily Mail. Apparently, Tory MPs “on the right of the party” who would rather have Kemi Badenoch or Suella Braverman as leader, would settle for Mordaunt if she would “allow social policy to be set by others” – Mordaunt’s “woke views on gender issues” being the main obstacle to their backing her.

The priority of the plotters is to “get rid of Rishi”, in the belief that almost anybody else as prime minister would lose fewer Tory seats. They are excited by opinion polls from Savanta and Michael Ashcroft showing that Mordaunt is the most popular leading Conservative – more popular than Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson, Badenoch or Braverman.

They dismiss suggestions that the voters would take a dim view of the Tory party offering them yet another prime minister, the fourth since the last election, or that it would be too late to make the switch now. “No 10’s handling of some recent events has been so astonishingly bad,” the Daily Mail’s source said, that what had seemed “ridiculous” until recently was now “much more likely”.

Some Tories have even cited the Bob Hawke scenario to me, referring to the Australian Labor Party changing its leader after the election was called in 1983 and going on to win four weeks later.

Other precedents are cited. The “coronation” of Michael Howard as Tory leader after MPs dumped Iain Duncan Smith in 2003. Howard was elected unopposed, partly because MPs couldn’t trust the party members to make the right choice, as they sought to avoid a meltdown at the 2005 election.

It should be possible to persuade other candidates not to stand this time too, it is argued. Badenoch, who is the favourite to take over as leader after the election, does not want to be leader before it, whereas Mordaunt might see it as her best chance.

Well, I kept it up for seven paragraphs. It was fun while it lasted. But the time has come to admit that “Has Penny Mordaunt’s time come?” is a QTWTAIN: a Question To Which The Answer Is No. The idea was ridiculous before the prime minister dealt ineptly with Lee Anderson, a former Tory deputy chair, saying the mayor of London was controlled by Islamists, and before he dithered in response to the unpleasant comments about Diane Abbott made by Frank Hester, the Tories’ biggest donor. And it is still ridiculous now.

Mordaunt’s relatively favourable opinion-poll rating is a mirage. She looked great at the actual coronation in Westminster Abbey, and she has made good use of the one perk of being leader of the House of Commons, which is that she gets a guaranteed slot in the chamber every week. She can use this to range across any subject, including her favourite, bashing the Scottish National Party, and it clips up well on social media.

But she struggled in the leadership election in 2022. In the two TV debates featuring five candidates, she was eclipsed by Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat, let alone by the front runners, and when she was eliminated in the final MPs’ ballot, she endorsed Liz Truss rather than Sunak. Of course, she could see which way the members were going and wanted to back the winner, but it was a questionable judgement.

If Tory MPs think that Sunak has made mistakes and fumbled opportunities to recover lost ground with the voters, they should remember Mordaunt’s “stand up and fight” speech at last year’s Tory conference, delivered to a sleepy, half-empty hall as if she were urging hostile villagers to take up arms against an oppressive feudal lord.

Even if the plotters are right that another change of leader could save a few seats from the deluge that is about to hit them, they know it cannot be done. The idea that even losing the West Midlands and Tees Valley mayoralties in the local elections in May will persuade half of Tory MPs to vote no confidence in Sunak remains ridiculous.

A small number of Boris-loving or Rishi-hating Tory MPs are motivated to talk to journalists about plots. But most Tory MPs are One Nation moderates, divided between those who have given up and those who think that ditching Sunak would only make matters worse. They mostly think highly of the prime minister and are disappointed that he hasn’t been able to turn things round. Some think that is his fault – usually couched as a criticism of the team around him – but others say that, in hindsight, the problems he inherited were insoluble.

They are all preparing for defeat at the general election in different ways. The one thing they are not going to do is to unite behind a plan to crown Mordaunt as prime minister. She is not the answer to the Tory party’s question: who will save us? “Has Penny Mordaunt’s time come?” remains a QTWTAIN.

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. 

What’s more, with the Jet2holidays sale now on, you can enjoy even better value on your break with up to £240 off† all holidays. Simply sign up for a myJet2 account, visit your independent travel agent or call the Jet2holidays contact centre. Book now and let the countdown to sunshine begin.

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.

Jet2holidays, the UK’s number one tour operator, offers package holidays you can trust where everything’s included. With you every step of the way, Jet2holidays has an incredible range of great-value, expert-rated getaways for all types of holidaymakers, across more than 50 stunning destinations. From the five-star luxury of Indulgent Escapes by Jet2holidays® to the compelling cities of Jet2CityBreaksVIBE by Jet2holidays for Insta-worthy stays that suit your style to family-friendly Jet2Villas, the boxes are ticked for every age, budget and interest. What’s more, with holidays secured for just £60pp deposit* and flexible payment options**, plus a host of perks like 22kg baggage and return transfers included††, it’s easy from start to finish. It’s all ABTA and ATOL-protected too, so you can enjoy sunshine with peace of mind. To find out more and book with the best, head here.

*On bookings made ten weeks or more before departure. **Terms and conditions apply. Please visit www.jet2holidays.com/part-payment for details. †Based on 4 people. On all holiday departures until 31 October 2025. . T&Cs apply. £60pp discount does not apply to Free Child Places. See http://Jet2holidays.com/promotions#60OFFMYJET2SALE ††Transfers are not included as standard on Jet2CityBreaks. Jet2Villas packages include car hire instead of transfers.

This re-election of Putin is a shameless charade

It does not take the psephological skills of Professor Sir John Curtice to divine the winner of the Russian presidential election of 2024. Any considerations of swing, differential turnout or the impact of new campaigning techniques may be safely dispensed with. Vladimir Putin’s victory will be achieved – indeed, for all intents and purposes, it is already in the bag – thanks to playing politics the Putin way.

Vote-rigging, fraud, suppression of the opposition, such as it is, control of the media and, above all, intimidation are means by which Putin has maintained himself in power for a quarter of a century. He has caused or permitted the deaths of his main rivals such as Alexei Navalny and, albeit not an electoral opponent, Yevgeny Prigozhin, boss of the Wagner private militia.

It does not take a sophisticated social media offensive to persuade anyone with pretensions to replace President Putin to quietly put the nomination papers away. His main surviving opponent, an anti-war activist, Boris Nadezhdin, has found himself disbarred on a trumped-up technicality and attributes the fact that he is still alive to never crossing “red lines”, such as attacking Putin personally. That is the state of “democracy”.

What will the House of Commons look like after the general election?

We don’t know when the general election will come, or who will win, albeit we can make some fairly safe guesses. However, what is as near to certain as can be is that the next House of Commons will look, sound and behave very differently from the present one.

The preponderance of mostly male Conservatives standing down or facing likely defeat – and the sheer scale of that defeat, coupled with an influx of more gender-balanced and diverse Labour candidates – means that the next House will have a record number of female MPs, and more people from an ethnic minority background than ever before. It will also be younger, feature more members from LGBT+ communities, and, dare one say it, be more “woke” and open to newer ways of running parliamentary debates, dress codes, hours of work and much else. We are on the brink of a dramatic change