The Telegraph 2024-03-22 01:00:39


Sickness benefits bill to surge by a third as worklessness crisis deepens

The cost of sickness benefits will surge by more than a third by the end of the decade as Britain’s worklessness crisis deepens, official forecasts show…

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Mordaunt fails to praise Sunak amid leadership speculation

Penny Mordaunt failed to praise Rishi Sunak on Thursday when challenged to confirm her support for the Prime Minister amid speculation about a plot to oust him.

The Commons Leader was warned by Labour that anything less than a “gushing homage” to Mr Sunak could be “misinterpreted” as rumours swirl about a plan to install her as his replacement.

A group of Right-wing Tory MPs is understood to believe Ms Mordaunt should lead the Tories into this year’s general election to prevent catastrophic losses, while surveys show she is among the most popular frontbenchers with the Tory grassroots.

Lucy Powell, the shadow Commons leader, used a business statement to urge her opposite number to address the “elephant in the room”.

“I’ve heard her before in these sessions giving a rather fulsome, sometimes slightly over the top personal tribute to the Prime Minister,” she said.

“Given that so many are losing faith, I thought she might want to take this opportunity today to give us another gushing homage. Anything less might be misinterpreted.”

Ms Mordaunt responded: “Mr Speaker, I have briefly emerged from under the hairdryer, put down my Take A Break magazine, managed not only to find my way to the chamber this morning, but also remember on which side of it I am supposed to be sitting.

“To be present and correct for Business Questions, quite a feat if media reports are to be believed.”

Despite praising the Government’s economic record, Ms Mordaunt declined the invitation to pay tribute to Mr Sunak directly.

‘Westminster rumour vortex’

“It is confirmation that the plan is working when on Thursdays the Opposition focuses not on these facts in the real world but on the Westminster rumour vortex.”

In a reference to Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, claiming that Britain is facing a 1979 moment, Ms Mordaunt continued: “It’s virtue-signalling over there versus results over here… It’s no plan versus a plan that is working.

“And to borrow from the Opposition’s newfound heroine Margaret Thatcher, if you want something saying, wait long enough and Labour will. If you need something doing, vote Conservative.”

A recent meeting is understood to have taken place between leading figures on the Right of the Tory parliamentary party and prominent supporters of Ms Mordaunt from when she previously ran for the leadership in July and October 2022.

Elsewhere in Thursday’s Commons session, Ms Mordaunt was taunted by the SNP’s Deidre Brock, who said: “All that leadership plotting and scheming… She’s been a busy bee.”

In January, the Commons Leader responded to Tory and opposition discontent about Mr Sunak’s leadership with a 341-word monologue praising his response to the pandemic while chancellor, his focus on tackling inflation and “hard work, courage and determination”.

She concluded her tribute with the words: “If the Leader of the Opposition is a weathervane, our Prime Minister is a signpost. He knows what he stands for, he knows where the country needs to go, he has a plan to get there and that plan is working.”

The Labour Party remains around 20 percentage points ahead of the Tories in the polls despite a series of fiscal and political events aimed at shoring up votes for the Conservatives, which is shedding support to the Liberal Democrats and Reform as well as Labour.

Despite the current rumours about Mr Sunak’s future, only two Conservative MPs – Dame Andrea Jenkyns and Sir Simon Clarke – have gone public to call for his resignation.

Ms Mordaunt has often been touted as a likely successor to the Prime Minister and topped the most recent ConservativeHome “Cabinet League Table”, which measures the popularity of the Tories’ top team.

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British expat shot dead after pointing gun at US officers

A British expat has been shot dead by police after pointing a gun at them outside his home in Pennsylvania.

Officers opened fire on Gregor Fleming, 44, after he “displayed a firearm” and moved towards them on March 7 in Hampden Township.

He died immediately, with his American fiancee, Kelly Thompson, 47, a medical assistant, witnessing the shooting.

Pennsylvania State Police have begun an investigation but Ms Thompson refused to criticise their handling of the incident.

She told the Daily Record: “I watched everything happen. He left the police with no choice.

“They told him to drop the gun several times and he refused. He started walking towards them with the gun and they had no choice but to do what they did.

“It’s an image burned in my mind that I will never forget. I watched the love of my life die right in front of me.”

Originally from Thornliebank, near Glasgow, Mr Fleming was described as “a beacon of strength, resilience and warmth” by Ms Thompson.

‘Suicidal over fears of throat cancer’

She told the Daily Record how he had been depressed and drinking heavily around the time of his death after a medical scan indicated he may have throat cancer.

Ms Thompson said: “He has been in severe pain since February after breaking his back and on top of that the imaging found a mass on his oesophagus that was likely cancer.

“He spiralled out of control and started drinking heavily and became suicidal.

“He was depressed and scared about possible cancer and the alcohol and medications he was on for pain didn’t help.”

Mr Fleming moved to the US in 2013 and had been training to be a plumber.

He planned to return to Scotland after he and Ms Thompson were married. The couple met when they were both living in Virginia.

She described the Rangers fan as a “selfless, kind, generous and loving person” who was an “amazing stepfather” to her four children.

A Pennsylvania State Police spokesman said: “On 7 March, 2024, Hampden Township Police were dispatched to the area of the 5000 block of Erbs Bridge Road, Hampden Township, Cumberland County, for a disturbance.

“During the course of the investigation, the subject of the disturbance displayed a firearm.

“At that time, the officers discharged their firearms, striking the subject. The subject was pronounced deceased at the scene.”

A spokesman for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “We are providing consular assistance to the family of a British man who has died in the USA.”

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First £5,000 council tax bills to arrive next week

Households will receive the first £5,000 council tax bills next week as it emerged the levy has soared by 50 per cent since David Cameron came to power in 2010…

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Sir Keir Starmer leads calls for Nike to change St George’s Cross on England kit back to red

England’s new £125 football kit for the European Championship has sparked a major row over a multicoloured St George’s Cross on the back of the shirt collar, with Sir Keir Starmer leading calls for it to be changed to traditional red…

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National Trust going in the wrong direction, warns former chairman

The National Trust is “going in the wrong direction”, a former chairman of the charity has said in an unprecedented intervention…

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Great Escape heroes ‘were betrayed by English collaborators’

Great Escape prisoners of war were betrayed by English informants, according to claims in newly unearthed intelligence documents…

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