INDEPENDENT 2024-04-01 10:06:27


Rishi Sunak facing Tory revolt over plan to criminalise rough sleeping

Rishi Sunak is facing a Tory revolt over plans to criminalise homelessness in a key crime bill this year.

The prime minister risks a backbench rebellion when MPs vote on the Criminal Justice Bill, which would give police the power to fine or move “nuisance” rough sleepers.

Dozens of MPs from the left and right of the Conservative Party are said to have warned Tory whips they will vote against measures in the bill.

Senior government sources told The Times they had “paused” the legislation while ministers negotiated with more than 40 expected rebels.

“The government is panicking about the scale of the rebellion because they know if it gets pushed to a vote they will lose,” one said.

The rebel added: “But we’re not backing down or giving way. The ball is in the government’s court. They need to listen or it will be desperate for them.”

A minister on Monday refused to say whether he would support the plans to criminalise rough sleeping.

Asked by Times Radio whether he would back the Bill as it stands, business minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “Those things are not within my auspices. I will be interested to see the legislation as it goes through and what the Prime Minister has planned.”

Asked if it was right to arrest someone for so-called nuisance rough sleeping, Mr Hollinrake said: “What is the most important thing is we provide the resources to get people off the streets and there should be those places where people can go to.

“I don’t think that should be… that shouldn’t be optional for people, if there are places that people can go to off the streets then those people should be off the streets, they shouldn’t be lying on the streets. It is not fair to other people in our town and city centres.”

The plans as they stand would grant police and local authority workers new powers to order beggars to move on while encouraging them to make use of accommodation services and mental health support.

Another new offence will be created for criminal gangs organising begging networks, and a government release said people causing “nuisance on the street” would be moved on, pointing in particular at those “obstructing shop doorways and begging by cash points”.

Homelessness charities have warned the government measures, which replaces the Vagrancy Act which criminalised all rough sleeping, will instead result in the “further criminalisation” of homeless people.

Polly Neate, chief executive of the charity Shelter, said: “Parliament must not enact this legislation. Instead of punishing people for being homeless, politicians should be trying to prevent them from ending up on the streets.

“Everyone at risk of sleeping rough should have a right to suitable emergency accommodation, and to end homelessness for good it must invest in genuinely affordable social homes — we need 90,000 a year.”

And Fiona Colley, director of social change at Homeless Link, said she was “disappointed” by the plan.

“Homelessness is not a crime,” she said. “When the government committed to repealing the Vagrancy Act it was done with an understanding that people sleeping on our streets need to be supported not criminalised.

“Therefore, we are extremely disappointed to see that this new plan will result in further criminalisation of vulnerable people, rather than offering the constructive solutions that work in helping people off the streets for good.”

The Liberal Democrats called on the government to back down on the plans to criminalise homelessness. MP Layla Moran, who led a cross-party campaign to scrap the Vagrancy Act, said: “The heartless proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill risk bringing back the Vacancy Act by the back door.

“The government should listen to their own backbenchers and take a compassionate approach to tackling homelessness, instead of stigmatising and criminalising rough sleepers.

“Sleeping rough is not a lifestyle choice. Ministers should focus on tackling the root causes of this crisis, not scapegoating the victims of it.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are determined to end rough sleeping and prevent people from ending up on the streets in the first place. That is why last year we published our strategy to end rough sleeping for good, backed by an unprecedented £2 billion commitment.

“No one should be criminalised for simply having nowhere to live, which is why we committed to repealing the outdated Vagrancy Act, which was passed in 1824.

“These provisions provide a civil route to engage with rough sleepers to help them to take up offers of support and only criminalise any non-compliance with a lawfully made direction, notice or order.”

Delaying the election will only mean one thing for the Tories

What are we to make of the latest “megapoll” conducted by Survation – one that presents us with the prospect of a Tory disaster greater than anything since the dawn of modern democracy in 1832? That’s right. Eighteen hundred and thirty-two, the first general election to be held after the passage of the Great Reform Act.

In some ways, it tells us nothing new, except perhaps suggesting that, even now, the Tories don’t realise what is about to hit them. The British general election of 2024 will be a record-breaking affair. If an election were held now, the Conservatives, who’ve ruled the country for the majority of the past century, would win just over a quarter of the vote (26 per cent), the lowest of any major party in any general election, surpassing Labour under Michael Foot in 1983 (who came in at 27.6 per cent).

However, unlike Labour in that heat, the Tories would be down to a rump of 98 seats. Half of the cabinet would be gone. Rishi Sunak is in real danger of being the first sitting prime minister to be turfed out since Arthur Balfour in 1906. Sir Keir Starmer’s prospective 45 per cent vote share and vertiginous 286-seat Commons majority would exceed anything that Tony Blair and New Labour dreamed of.

Toddler’s remains discovered by hiker eight months after he vanished

The remains of a toddler who vanished from a tiny French hamlet eight months ago have been found, according to local prosecutors.

Emile Soleil, aged 2, vanished from a family reunion in Le Vernet – a small village in the Alpes-des-Haute-Provence with around 125 residents– on 8 July last year.

The toddler’s disappearance sparked a huge manhunt involving drones, sniffer dogs and helicopters.

According to BFMTV, a hiker discovered some remains on Saturday. Searches are continuing.

The mayor of Vernet, François Balique, told Le Figaro that the area in which Emile’s bones were discovered was being “excavated”.

“It is a place where hunters and their dogs and residents pass daily and where forestry work was carried out in the autumn,” he said.

On Sunday, the Aix-en-Provence public prosecutor announced the development in a statement. It read: “On March 30, 2024, the national gendarmerie was informed of the discovery of bones near the hamlet Vernet.

“The investigators took possession of the bones and immediately transported them to the IRCGN in order to carry out genetic identification analyses which made it possible to conclude on March 31 that they were the bones of the child Emile Soleil.

“Under the direction of the investigating magistrates, the IRCGN is continuing criminalistic analyses of the bones and the national gendarmerie is dedicated to deploying resources to undertake additional research in the geographical area where they were found.”

The Facebook group “Pray for Emile” where Emile’s mother regularly posted calls for prayer to find her little boy – was flooded with tributes for the boy.

One wrote: “Thinking of you in this painful ordeal. May God welcome your little Émile in his paradise where love and kindness reign. May he support you in these times, lots of courage and love for you, and your entire family.”

Another added: “My prayers are with you on this day and those that follow.”

Emile’s family lives in Marseille and he was on holiday at his maternal grandparents’ home at the time of his disappearance. Police said at least 10 people were present at the property for a family reunion.

The family was due to leave for a hiking outing, and Emile’s grandparents noticed he was missing when they went to put him in the car.

Emile was reportedly seen by two people when he left their home but they “lost sight of him”. Described as 3ft tall, with brown eyes and blond hair, Emile was wearing a yellow T-shirt, white shorts with a green pattern and walking shoes when he disappeared.

Police issued an appeal for information about Emile on 9 July and launched an extensive search operation in Le Vernet, aided by nearly 500 volunteers.

On 13 July, the search was called off and investigators admitted they had “no clue” what had happened to Emile.

Erdogan suffers worst defeat in decades in Turkey’s key local elections

Turkey’s main opposition party has secured a sweeping victory in local elections, dealing a serious setback to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s two-decade grip on power and signalling a change in the country’s political landscape.

The opposition candidate, Ekrem Imamoğlu, clinched a second term as Istanbul’s mayor despite Erdogan’s concerted effort to unseat him and, in the process, cemented his position as the president’s main challenger.

“My dear Istanbulites, you opened the door to a new future today,” Mr Imamoğlu said addressing the overjoyed supporters of his Republican People’s Party (CHP).

“Starting from tomorrow, Turkey will be a different Turkey. You opened the door to the rise of democracy, equality and freedom …You ignited hope at the ballot box.”

Mr Imamoğlu won more than 50 per cent of the vote in the mayoral contest in Istanbul, a city of 16 million people, while CHP successfully defended Ankara and secured victories in 15 additional mayoral races across the country.

It was the worst defeat for the Turkish president since coming to power 21 years ago.

In a sombre address to a restrained gathering outside his party’s headquarters in Ankara, Mr Erdoğan commended the electoral process and said it would mark “not an end for us but rather a turning point”.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the result we wanted in local elections,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason. We will rebuild trust in places where our nation has chosen someone else.”

Mr Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), battling surging inflation and dissatisfied Islamist voters, performed below expectations outlined by opinion polls. It’s a point that Mr Imamoğlu made sure to drive home in his address.

“Tonight, 16 million Istanbul citizens sent a message to both our rivals and the president,” said Mr Imamoğlu, a former businessman who entered politics in 2008 and is now widely touted as a likely presidential challenger.

In Ankara, CHP mayor Mansur Yavas was leading ahead of his AKP rival with 59 per cent of the vote and declared victory in a speech to thousands of cheering supporters.

Supporters of CHP blocked roads in several cities in celebration, waving flags as drivers honked car horns.

Mert Arslanalp, assistant professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bogazici University, said it was Mr Erdoğan’s “severest election defeat” since coming to power in 2002.

“Imamoğlu demonstrated he could reach across the deep sociopolitical divisions that define Turkey’s opposition electorate even without their institutional support,” he said. “This makes him the most politically competitive rival to Erdogan‘s regime.”

With 92.92 per cent of ballot boxes opened in Istanbul, Europe’s largest city and Turkey’s economic engine, Mr Imamoğlu had secured 50.92 per cent of the vote as against 40.05 per cent for AKP challenger Murat Kurum, a former minister in Mr Erdoğan’s national government.

In 2019, Mr Imamoğlu first dealt an electoral blow to Mr Erdoğan after he first won Istanbul, ending the president’s 25-year reign in the city. CHP also won the capital city of Ankara that year.

However, in 2023, the president won reelection and secured a parliamentary majority alongside his nationalist allies, despite enduring a prolonged cost-of-living crisis.

This time, analysts said the economic strain, not least nearly 70 per cent inflation and a slowdown in growth brought on by an aggressive monetary-tightening regime, moved voters to punish AKP.

Additional reporting by agencies

Carrie at 50: the bloody history of Stephen King’s audacious debut

Unfortunately, I came of age during the “sexy Halloween” era. The annual festival of all things frightening was becoming gaudier, more candy-strewn and American. But it was the Noughties, so it was also enthusiastically promoting the idea of young women being “sexy” versions of scary things. The sexy witch. The sexy devil. The sexy black cat (?). The… sexy Freddy Krueger – yes, I’m afraid so. Personally, I found this a shame, because what I wanted to be was not sexy, but a girl covered in blood. A grand guignol prom queen who burnt down her school, then her whole town. I wanted to be Carrie White.

I never dressed up as Stephen King’s cult antihero, which was perhaps a good thing, at least in terms of practicalities – think of all the chairs I would have ruined. But despite this, and despite the fact that I’ve never had telekinetic powers, I felt something kindred with Carrie.

Published 50 years ago, on 5 April 1974, Carrie is the debut novel of the “king of horror”, the simple but twisted tale of a high-school girl who doesn’t fit in. The “frog among swans”, the “sacrificial goat”, his protagonist – the daughter of a bible-crazed single mother – is transformed into a beautiful prom queen, but it seems too good to be true. And so it is to prove when the main school bully recruits her deadbeat boyfriend to arrange for pig blood to fall onto the stage where Carrie is crowned, invoking in her a furious humiliation that brings about the novel’s deadly, destructive denouement.

How can it be that it was published 50 years ago? Even though it was written in an age before smartphones and social media, the specific teenage-girl pain of the novel feels fresh and stinging. My first experience of reading it – as a teen desperate to get “grown-up” books out of the library and munch them for plot – was very different; it wasn’t a particularly emotional experience. But as an adult, I found myself startled and moved.

I happened to be re-reading it on the same recent weekend that I returned to my old school for a concert. As I sat in the hall where I had once stumbled inelegantly through PE lessons and drama rehearsals, where I had shifted awkwardly in my seat during assemblies, the experience was visceral, heightened by Carrie. There lurked the ghosts of casual cruelty, taunts and teasing; you couldn’t pay me to do school again.

And although in some ways it’s jarring to read King’s descriptions of his telekinetic menace now – she looks around “bovinely”, she “grunts and gobbles”, she “looked like an ape” – they also resonate. As a teenage girl you find yourself in a body you don’t know how to drive yet; you feel like all your limbs are made of lead.

Carrie would be the book that changed everything for King. From The Shining to Misery, It to The Stand, he has since published more than 60 novels and sold more than 350 million books, plenty of which – including Carrie – have been the subject of multiple adaptations. But the fact that it almost didn’t happen is one of the most famous tales in literary lore: King initially put the manuscript for the novel in the bin, only for his wife Tabitha to fish it back out and urge him to continue.

He’d been working at a laundry when he remembered a summer job as a high-school janitor that required him to clean the girls’ changing room. He pictured an arresting scene: an awkward teenage girl, showering with no privacy, getting her first period and being pelted with tampons by her classmates. “She reacts… fights back… but how?” he wrote in his memoir, On Writing. For the character of Carrie, he was inspired by two girls he’d known at school – both misfits, both of whom had died young.

The manuscript sold when he was 26 and a young parent. He was working as a high-school teacher, a career King expected to continue while writing on the side. That is, until his publishers rang him to tell him that the paperback rights had sold for $400,000 (£317,000). “The strength ran out of my legs. I didn’t fall, exactly, but I kind of whooshed down to a sitting position there in the doorway,” he recalled in On Writing. It wasn’t just a way into full-time writing, but a way out of a life of never quite having enough money. Dazed, King decided to go out and buy his wife a “wild and extravagant” Mother’s Day present (the best he could find, he said, was a hairdryer).

Carrie reads like a book written without fear, the calling card of a writer with immense storytelling power. At just 272 pages, it’s a predecessor to King’s breezeblock era, and very much a novel of mood and image. King sets an atmosphere of claustrophobic, encroaching terror, and then ticks up the tension until the spectacular finale. But it also marked the birth of a more bold, modern type of horror. Here, terrors lurked among everyday banalities, from douchey frat boys to overbearing parents.

Upon publication, Carrie was by no means an overnight success. Hardback sales were slow. The paperback gathered pace, though, selling a million in its first year. And reviews were strong, too. The New York Times found King’s talent prodigious. “That this is a first novel is amazing. King writes with the kind of surety normally associated only with veteran writers,” said the review. “This mixture of science fiction, the occult, secondary school sociology, kids good and bad and genetics turns out to be an extraordinary mixture.”

Reading it today, I was also struck by the novel’s conscience. This is a story about a world in which men hate women – Billy Nolan, the co-architect of Carrie’s humiliation, sees girlfriend Chris Hargensen as a disposable sexual object – and where femininity is feared. No wonder Margaret Atwood is a fan. In her introduction to a new edition being published for the 50th anniversary, she writes: “underneath the ‘horror,’ in King, is always the real horror: the all-too-actual poverty and neglect and hunger and abuse that exists in America today”.

One of my favourite things about the novel is its unusual scrapbook effect. Interspersing the story with snippets and clippings from fictionalised articles about the “Carrie phenomenon”, King creates a sense of foreboding, teasing the voyeur within all of us that wants to know more about the horrible thing that happened.

King added these elements, he says, for two reasons: to pad out his too-short novel, and “to inject a greater sense of realism” – he was emulating the “Did this really happen?” effect of Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. One entry takes the form of the biography of Sue Snell, who sends her boyfriend Tommy to the prom with Carrie, and says, “They finally even made a movie about it. I saw it last April. When I came out, I was sick.” Violence in the suburbs, shortly followed by a film version? A mischievous touch of verisimilitude.

Of course, they did make a movie of Carrie – and Brian De Palma’s cult 1976 film loses these snippets, which don’t translate to film. King thought the film was more stylish than the novel. In his book about the horror genre, Danse Macabre, he described its epic final scenes, where an eyes-bulging, bloodied Sissy Spacek glides through the school gym to a backdrop of dancing flames, as “a dream revolution of the socially downtrodden”.

The film was a huge box-office success, and frequently appears on lofty lists of great movies. Watching it today is nonetheless an alarming experience: the soft-focus male-gazey haze of the opening shower scene, where beautiful naked young women soap themselves, feels icky. But the performances, from John Travolta as the dick-for-brains Billy to Spacek’s monumental, Oscar-nominated summoning of Carrie, are timeless.

De Palma’s film has genuinely earned the overused adjective “iconic”; less successful was a 2013 remake with Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore, which has a 50 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But, on the scale of disasters, that came nowhere near Carrie: The Musical, something that practically has eighth-wonder-of-the-world status when it comes to flops.

Developed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1988, the musical seemed to be a misfire from the start: star Barbara Cook, playing Carrie’s mother, left the production after nearly being decapitated by part of the set. On Broadway, it was slaughtered – “uninhibited tastelessness” was The New York Times’s verdict – and became one of the most expensive flops in history, losing $8m and closing after only 21 performances.

In his book Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops, Ken Mandelbaum described the show as something to which “all future musical flops will be compared and found wanting”. Since then it has been revived as a cult hit, including a 2015 run at Southwark Playhouse – but with a number of the songs excised. Gone, now, was “Out for Blood”, a song-and-dance number about killing pigs that had left the audience not knowing where to look. So notorious was the song that a recent 10-part podcast was named after it.

There have been debates during King’s 50-year career as to whether he qualifies as a great writer. Is it “art”? Anything that sells in the kind of numbers he does will always arouse suspicion. Carrie, at least to me, is a great work: haunting, hard to stop reading, close to the bone. And still exhilarating, half a century later.

It’s difficult to revisit it now without the extraordinary knowledge of what King went on to become: one of our most prolific and reliable storytellers. I wish I’d been able to read it 50 years ago, not knowing about any of that – just electrified by the arrival of a debut writer with a voice that made you sit up, who seemed like he had a pretty vivid imagination. What might he go on to do? Who knew.

A 50th anniversary edition of ‘Carrie’, with a new introduction by Margaret Atwood, is out now, published by Hodder & Stoughton

Children’s NHS waiting lists must be a priority, not an afterthought

If the National Health Service is turning a corner – and it is a big “if” – then children should be the first to benefit. Instead, while waiting lists for adults have started to fall in England, those for children are still rising.

“If a child is waiting 52 weeks for treatment and they’re three years old, 52 weeks is a third of their life. I think it’s a disgrace,” Dr Camilla Kingdon, the outgoing president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told The Independent. “Children have to be prioritised in a way they haven’t been.”

The prime minister should listen to her, and Sir Keir Starmer, who could be in 10 Downing Street by the end of the year, should do so too. There is “a lot of work to do”, she said, in drumming up the political will to cut waiting lists – and to reorder priorities within that drive for change.

Why has Labour lost so many members?

Labour has suffered a significant dip in its membership – in a short period of time. The fall coincides with pressure on the party’s leadership over its stance on the war in Gaza and a significant downgrading of its pledge to spend billions of pounds on green investment if it gets into power.

But what impact do party membership numbers have in the modern age and how worried should Labour be?