INDEPENDENT 2024-04-21 10:04:05


F1 Chinese GP LIVE: Verstappen beats Norris as Hamilton claims points

Max Verstappen powered to another dominant win in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, as Lewis Hamilton complained his car was “slow” and “broken” after he finished ninth.

]Verstappen emerged unscathed from two safety car periods to secure his 38th win from the last 49 staged in Formula One on his unstoppable march towards a fourth straight championship. But for Hamilton, now 50 races and 868 long days without a victory, this marked another sobering afternoon in his uncompetitive Mercedes.

McLaren’s Lando Norris delivered an impressive performance to finish second – his best result of the season so far – one place ahead of Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz fourth and fifth for Ferrari. George Russell was sixth.

Follow live reaction of the Chinese Grand Prix with The Independent.

Braverman joins calls for Met Police chief to quit over Gaza protests

The head of the Met Police is facing calls to quit over the force’s handling of pro-Palestinian protests.

Both the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) and former home secretary Suella Braverman have called for Sir Mark Rowley to resign or be sacked, accusing him of having “emboldened” antisemites.

Ms Braverman used an op-ed in The Sunday Telegraph to demand Sir Mark’s resignation, saying people who were “flagrantly antisemitic” were being “waved on by the police”.

She said: “Either this is gross incompetence, or it’s a culture coming from the top, where thugs are free to intimidate and harass while the rest of us have to keep our mouths shut and stay out of the way.”

In a statement, the CAA’s chief executive, Gideon Falter, said: “Racists, extremists and terrorist sympathisers have watched the excuses and inertia of the Met under his command and been emboldened by his inaction at precisely the moment when he should be signalling a renewed determination to crack down on this criminality.

“What the Met under Sir Mark has done to the Jewish community over the course of six months is utterly unforgivable and it is time for him to go. Enough is enough.”

Other figures including Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden were highly critical of the Met but stopped short of saying Sir Mark should go.

Mr Dowden told The Sunday Telegraph that the force had been “disrespecting” Jews while Lord Walney, the Government’s adviser on political violence, accused the Met of displaying “institutional antisemitism”.

Sir Mark said: “Every member of the Met is determined to ensure that London is a city in which everyone feels safe.

“We absolutely understand how vulnerable Jewish and Muslim Londoners feel since the terrorist attacks on Israel.

“Some of our actions have increased this concern. I personally reiterate our apology from earlier this week.

“Today, as with every other day, our officers will continue to police with courage, empathy and impartiality.”

Mr Falter has been at the centre of a row about the policing of demonstrations after the CAA published footage of a police officer describing him as “openly Jewish” during a protest in central London on April 13.

In the clip, another officer told Mr Falter he would be arrested if he did not leave the area because he was “causing a breach of peace with all these other people” as his presence was “antagonising”.

The Met apologised on Friday, suggesting opponents of pro-Palestinian marches “must know that their presence is provocative” and they are “increasing the likelihood of an altercation” by lining the route to object.

But the force subsequently issued another statement apologising for the “further offence” caused by its first apology.

Mr Falter said his treatment had been “a disgrace” and “the inevitable conclusion of six months of inertia and contextualising crimes away by a Met that has curtailed the rights of law-abiding Londoners in order to appease mobs rife with anti-Jewish racists and terrorist sympathisers”.

Policing minister Chris Philp said on Saturday he was “deeply concerned” and would meet Sir Mark the following week to discuss the incident.

He said: “No-one should be told their religion is provocative, nor an innocent person threatened with arrest solely because of someone else’s anticipated unreasonable reaction.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly has also written to the Met and London Mayor Sadiq Khan about the incident.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We welcome the Met Police’s apology, and recognise the complexities of policing fast-moving public protests, but simply being Jewish – or of any other race or religion – should never be seen as provocative.

“Anyone of any religion should be free to go about their lives and feel safe doing so.”

A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: “Everybody must feel safe going about in London wherever they please.

“The way the original incident was dealt with by the Met was concerning and the original response put out by them was insensitive and wrong.

“The Met have an extremely difficult job – particularly so when it comes to operational decisions taken while policing marches – but in the end the Met must have the confidence of the communities they serve and it is right that they have apologised for the way the incident was handled and their original public response.”

Labour plots new campaign to win over Tory-supporting pensioners

Labour is plotting a new campaign to win over Tory-supporting pensioners in a move aimed at wiping out one of the government’s few remaining electoral strengths.

It comes as evidence shows the Conservatives are currently performing as badly among the demographic as the party was under former prime minister Liz Truss, who lasted a mere 49 days in office before she was forced out.

With local elections in England coming up in less than two weeks, The Observer reported Sir Keir Starmer’s top officials are understood to be refocusing their campaign after noticing pensioners’ growing concern over how a Tory tax-cutting pledge might hit pensions and the NHS.

The change in approach – involving a national media and targeted digital advertising campaign from Sunday – comes after the chancellor signalled employee national insurance contributions would eventually be scrapped, with Labour claiming the decision would cost around £46bn per year.

The results of a private focus group run by Sir Keir’s party this week led its most senior officials to believe Jeremy Hunt had made a mistake with his announcement, with older voters fearful of the impact of the removal of national insurance on the struggling health service.

Insiders told The Observer that the move was being compared to Ms Truss’s doomed proposal for £45bn in unfunded tax cuts by “pensioner hero voters”, a group who previously supported the Tories but are considering a switch to Labour.

An internal memo written by Labour’s strategy chief Deborah Mattinson said: “Their primary concern is that it is a huge unfunded spending commitment. The unfunded commitment raises alarm bells and leads voters to spontaneously make comparisons to Truss’s mini-Budget.

“Beyond this, they recognise the high risk to the future of the state pension – with some worrying it won’t be around for their children/grandchildren. This gives Labour its biggest opportunity with pensioners for some time.”

The one group for which the Tories lead Labour is the over-65s, and then only by six points, according to the most recent Opinium poll for The Observer. And the 35 per cent support the Conservatives currently enjoy among the demographic is still four percentage points lower than in the poll taken before Ms Truss’s resignation.

An agreement to focus the final weeks of the local election campaign on targeting the over-65s over this issue was reached at a campaign meeting on Wednesday.

A memo issued to the shadow cabinet by Pat McFadden, the veteran MP preparing Labour’s election campaign, read: “This is a crucial moment for our local and general election campaigns. We know from our strategy and insights team that voters share this concern. Scrutinising the Conservatives’ £46bn plan will be a central line of our attack.”

It comes as, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, the Labour leader accused the Tories of denigrating “some of our proudest national institutions” and lacking faith in the strength of British identity to “withstand discussion”, as he laid claim to the mantle of “the patriotic party”.

In an opinion piece published in the run-up to St George’s Day on Tuesday, Sir Keir spoke of his “pride and gratitude” at being English, saying Labour was “at its best when it has celebrated, defended and served the values of our country and its people” and promised to “always put country above party”.

Asking whether the Conservative Party was “really capable of serving anything other than itself”, he said: “I don’t think so.”

Adding: “In fact, frankly, when you’ve trashed the economy, hammered mortgage holders, weakened the union, neglected our forces, repeatedly broken laws you expected others to follow and denigrated some of our proudest national institutions, from the BBC to the National Trust to the England football team, I’m afraid you have lost any right to call yourself a patriotic party.”

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “We are cutting national insurance contributions again for 29 million working people to end the unfairness of double taxation on work and making sure being in work pays. Our long-term ambition is to abolish it entirely, which we cannot do overnight and will only do in a fiscally responsible way, without compromising high-quality public services.

“Labour, on the other hand, have pledged to deliver a commitment they’ve costed at £28bn by 2030, which would create a huge black hole in the nation’s finances.”

The Independent has approached the Conservative Party for further comment.

Government rejects EU agreement to help young people work in Europe

The government has ruled out any post-Brexit deal that would make it easier for young Britons to live, study and work in the EU.

The European Commission (EC) said it would seek permission from EU member states to open negotiations on a “youth mobility scheme” for UK citizens aged 18-30.

Thousands of voters have already written to their MP to demand they accept the offer.

But a government spokesperson said there was no interest from the UK side, adding that “free movement within the EU was ended”.

The UK currently has individual youth mobility schemes with 13 countries, and the government said it preferred such bilateral arrangements over an EU-wide deal.

Labour also rejected the possibility of an EU-wide scheme, saying the party would “seek to improve the UK’s working relationship with the EU within our red lines – no return to the single market, customs union or free movement”.

On Thursday, the commission suggested Britain had expressed an interest in youth mobility deals with individual member states, adding an EU-wide approach would be preferable as it would ensure all members were treated equally.

A spokesman for the campaign group Stay European urged MPs to listen to British young people deserve these opportunities presented by the plan. He told The Independent: “The EU’s proposal for a youth mobility scheme for 18-30-year-olds would give British young people the renewed ability to live, study and work across the EU.

“It would also remove barriers to young EU citizens coming here to fill vital employment gaps.”

He added: “MPs, whichever party they are from, should listen to young people who are desperate to be able to travel again in Europe.

“Rishi Sunak should realise that his government is hated by young people and the EU is offering him a lifeline.

“Labour should not dismiss this scheme because they will need both the support of young people to win the election and the hard work of young Europeans to implement their economic programme in office.

“We are hopeful that the EU’s negotiating abilities will prevail and this plan will go ahead.

“While it is not accurate to call it freedom of movement, it could be a stepping stone towards the return to freedom of movement that we want to see.”

EC vice-president Maros Sefcovic said Brexit had “hit young people in the EU and the UK who would like to study, work and live abroad particularly hard”.

He added: “Today, we take the first step towards an ambitious but realistic agreement between the EU and the UK that would fix this issue. Our aim is to rebuild human bridges between young Europeans on both sides of the Channel.”

EU member states would have had to agree to the proposals first before any negotiations with the UK could begin.

But a UK government spokesperson said: “We are not introducing an EU-wide youth mobility scheme (YMS) – free movement within the EU was ended and there are no plans to introduce it.

“We have successful schemes with 13 countries, including Australia and New Zealand, and remain open to agreeing them with our international partners, including individual EU member states, where it’s in the UK’s interest and supports the skills and opportunities of our youth.”

Labour MP Stella Creasy blasted the Conservative’s “duplicity over Europe” even though her party also ruled out an EU-wide deal.

She wrote on X: “They’ve actively tried to negotiate youth visa scheme with several European countries. EU offered to short-circuit the process.

“Panicked by their Brexiteer backbenches they have rejected whole idea and youth opportunities with it.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said such an agreement would be a “win-win-win”.

He said: “Liberal Democrats have long been urging the government to negotiate a reciprocal youth mobility scheme with Europe.

“Of course, the details would need to be negotiated but no sensible UK government would reject this idea out of hand.”

How Jamie Oliver became British TV’s most divisive chef

Desperate”. “Nowhere near reality”. “Bewilderingly cringe”. These are not responses to some new governmental gaffe, but damning verdicts on Jamie Oliver’s latest TV show. When the first instalment of Jamie’s Air Fryer Meals aired on Monday night – with sponsorship from Tefal, the company that makes and markets Oliver-branded pans – it was greeted online by a flurry of snarky comments, taking issue with the chef’s attempts to make low-cost, speedy meals. Why did one man faffing around with a table-top convection oven provoke so much ire?

Over the years, Oliver has turned laddy relatability into a hugely successful brand. A quarter of a century after his first cookbook was released, the 48-year-old is still the UK’s biggest-selling non-fiction author, with new shows popping up regularly on Channel 4. His campaign work – on issues like school meals and junk food – has permeated the public consciousness in ways that most celeb-driven causes simply don’t do. But he’s also drawn criticism and mockery along the way (we’re talking about a guy who once rapped about healthy eating with Ed Sheeran and reportedly signs off every email with “big love”, after all). How did the Vespa-riding every-bloke turn into one of the most divisive figures in British food?

Oliver’s origin story is well known by now. He grew up in his parents’ Essex pub, The Cricketers, where he worked for pocket money, and struggled with dyslexia at school, eventually leaving at 16 with two GCSEs. After that, he headed to catering college before landing jobs as a pastry chef at Antonio Carluccio’s Neal Street restaurant and as a sous-chef at The River Cafe, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray’s much-loved Italian restaurant in Hammersmith.

It was here that Oliver accidentally started his media career. The River Cafe opened its doors to a BBC camera crew to capture the restaurant in the run-up to Christmas. Oliver wasn’t meant to appear in the show (he wasn’t even supposed to be working that day – he’d turned up to cover a sick colleague’s shift), but his easy manner caught producers’ interest. “We said ‘[Rogers and Gray] are wonderful but look at this guy in the background; he’s the one!’” Jane Root, then a commissioner at the BBC, would later recall to Vice.

That brief cameo earned Oliver a TV series of his own. The Naked Chef debuted on BBC Two in 1999, filmed at a flat in east London (the place in Hammersmith that Oliver shared with now-wife Jools wasn’t big enough to fit the cameras in). It was all about “stripping down the recipes to the bare essentials”, as an alarmingly fresh-faced Oliver declared in the opening credits. He dashed around London on a Vespa, had a laissez-faire approach to measuring ingredients and invited all his mates round to test out the fruits of his labour at the end of the show (after sliding down the bannisters to open his front door).

With its oi-oi mockney lingo and its breezy Britpop soundtrack (Oliver later curated the compilation album Cookin’: Music to Cook By, featuring the likes of Toploader, Jamiroquai and his own band, Scarlet Division), the show was very easy to parody. But it was also a huge hit, thanks in no small part to Oliver’s laidback everyman approach. When the second series aired in 2000, The Naked Chef was drawing in around 4 million viewers; by the end of that year, the accompanying cookbook had sold 1.2 million copies worldwide. His next big venture was Fifteen, a not-for-profit restaurant in London’s Westland Place. Oliver hired 15 young adults, many of them unemployed or from disadvantaged backgrounds, and trained them up as chefs; the process was documented in the Channel 4 series Jamie’s Kitchen in 2002.

It was his first foray into social enterprise, proof that he wanted to do a bit more with his celebrity status than just shift books and sign lucrative endorsement deals. Depending on who you talk to, Oliver’s desire to get involved with causes he feels strongly about is either his biggest selling point or his most infuriating trait. Jamie’s School Dinners was a perfect case study. In 2004, Oliver began a mission to overhaul school lunches at Kidbrooke School in Greenwich, attempting to ditch junk food – including his ultimate nemesis, the Turkey Twizzler, a curly strip of heavily processed meat in a crispy coating – from the menu and get the already overworked dinner ladies on side. After coming in all guns blazing, Oliver soon realised just how difficult it was to pull together a half-decent meal on a budget of just 37p per child; he also mouthed off at parents sending their children to school laden with sugary snacks (sugar is a particular Oliver bugbear – he’s since lobbied for the government to tax it).

When Jamie’s School Dinners aired on Channel 4 the following year, it touched a national nerve, sparking conversation about healthy eating and eventually prompting the government to launch the £60m School Food Trust, with the aim of improving standards across the country; Tony Blair later earmarked £280m for further improvements. In 2010, a study found that the first schools to get on board with the campaign saw improved results in English and science SATs, and fewer absences due to illness. The flipside, though, was a slight decline in primary and secondary pupils eating school meals.

The show wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Some naysayers bristled at what they perceived to be Oliver’s nannying ways. Others, meanwhile, took issue with the entire set up: a very wealthy celebrity berating significantly less wealthy people for the way they eat, with limited empathy for their circumstances. Criticisms like these got louder when Oliver launched his next project, Jamie’s Ministry of Food. The 2008 series saw him head to Rotherham, then one of the unhealthiest towns in the UK, to teach cooking refuseniks how to make easy recipes. Once again, Oliver’s intentions seemed good. The execution, though, was a bit dubious. “This teeters close to being the nastiest sort of human zoo TV,” a Guardian review cautioned.

Once the cameras stopped rolling, Oliver did go on to set up Ministry of Food centres across the UK to continue teaching the public about healthy cooking: 15 years later, they are still going strong. But a few years after the show aired, the chef’s recollections of his time in Rotherham made headlines.You might remember that scene in Ministry of Food, with the mum and the kid eating chips and cheese out of Styrofoam containers, and behind them is a massive f***ing TV,” he told the Radio Times in 2013, while promoting another series about low-cost meals. “It just didn’t weigh up […] The fascinating thing for me is that seven times out of 10, the poorest families in this country choose the most expensive way to hydrate and feed their families.” Even if the subject did “fascinate” him, it didn’t seem like he’d spent much time thinking about why a cash-stretched parent might opt for convenience food. It felt like he was kicking the very people he’d been purporting to help.

While all this was playing out on our TV screens, Oliver was also building up his restaurant empire. In 2008, he launched the first branch of Jamie’s Italian with the help of his mentor Gennaro Contaldo, his first boss at Neal Street. It was straightforward, mid-budget dining, but Oliver promised that the ingredients were top quality and well-sourced – or perhaps he’d say they were “wicked”, “legendary” or even “proper rustic”. All of those adjectives featured on a list of words that staff at Oliver’s restaurants were allegedly encouraged to use in conversation with customers, shared on Twitter in 2012.

Soon there was an outpost of Jamie’s Italian in almost every major UK city, plus a few branches of his steakhouse Barbecoa across London. But behind the scenes, all was not pukka. By the late 2010s, the mid-budget dining bubble had burst. Hit by “rents, rates, the high street declining, food costs, Brexit, increase in the minimum wage”, as Oliver would eventually sum up, his business called in administrators in 2019 (he’d previously poured in around £25m of his own money to try and turn things around).

All but three of his restaurants shut down – including his beloved Fifteen – and around 1,000 jobs were lost (some staff found this out over email). They left behind debts of £83m, including £21m debts to food suppliers and local councils; administrators KPMG later revealed that the majority of creditors would not be able to recover the money they were owed. You could feel the schadenfreude in the headlines crowing over Oliver’s “downfall”. And in a stroke of terrible timing, the whole debacle took place soon after Oliver and his family had moved into a £6m mansion in Essex.

These are just a handful of Oliver’s controversies. He’s been slammed for hypocrisy for advocating for environmental campaigns, then striking up a partnership to stock his sandwiches in Shell garages (“I can stick up for what’s in the stores and where it’s come from,” he countered). And for banging the healthy eating drum while selling pasta sauces with high salt content: in 2009, Consensus Action on Salt and Health found that a full jar of his olive and garlic sauce was roughly equivalent to eating more than 10 packets of ready salted crisps. In 2018, the MP Dawn Butler criticised his “punchy jerk rice”, alleging cultural appropriation; Oliver made amends by hiring “cultural appropriation specialists” to prevent future missteps (which inevitably led to him being slammed as “woke” by certain right-wing commentators). And most recently, his 2022 protest against “buy one, get one free” offers on unhealthy food was labelled “out of touch” against the backdrop of the cost of living crisis.

And yet, despite all this, Oliver always seems to bounce back. Last year, he launched a new restaurant in Covent Garden, with a menu harking back to his “culinary roots”: the experience, he said, was “like getting back on the horse you’ve been kicked off”. So is he a dedicated philanthropist or acquisitive hypocrite? A man of the people or an out-of-touch millionaire? Might he even be “James Corden, but cooking”, as one Reddit user posits on a lengthy thread about the chef? Whatever you think of him, he’s probably cooking up yet another project that’ll engage and enrage us right this moment.

From reefs to rainforests: A nature-lover’s guide to Queensland

From the oldest tropical rainforest on the planet to iridescent everglades, striking marine life and dramatic mountain peaks, Queensland is a paradise for anyone into nature and wildlife. We’ve put together a guide to the best natural spots to visit in each region, with help from the experts at Travelbag, who are on hand to make your dream holiday happen.

Queensland’s vibrant capital, Brisbane offers plenty to lure urbanites with its galleries, museums and restaurants, and it doesn’t fall short on the nature front either.

For an especially tranquil spot, head to the city’s Botanic Gardens, set just outside the centre and home to the biggest collection of Australian native rainforest trees in the world (entry is free). If you fancy getting up close and personal with the local wildlife, swing by the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – home to a koala research centre alongside various experiences, from wildlife encounters to a Nocturnal Twilight Tour.

Beyond the city itself, you’ll find plenty more to explore; for one of the most jaw-dropping spots, head to the Scenic Rim, a dramatic caldera landscape scattered with soaring peaks, lush valleys and scenic bushwalking trails.

The Gold Coast might be best-known for its beaches, nightlife and family-friendly fun, but as the gateway to several national parks, it’s also a dream for nature-lovers. It’s here you’ll find Lamington National Park and Springbrook National Park – both part of the Unesco-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, the biggest subtropical rainforest on the planet. Hiking trails lace these tree-carpeted landscapes, with waterfalls, mountains and lush flora for scenery.

Elsewhere, venture to Burleigh Heads National Park to amble between scenic coastline and emerald rainforest, and come between July and October to spot migrating whales as they pass the famous ‘Humpback Highway’.

Just north of Brisbane sits the Sunshine Coast – an idyllic stretch lined with sugary beaches and cerulean sea, and the home of laid-back surf town Noosa.

Among the myriad natural charms here you’ll find the Noosa Everglades – one of only two everglades systems in the world, tucked within a sprawling UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Nicknamed the ‘river of mirrors’, this network of waterways, tea tree forests and wetlands is home to 40% of Australia’s bird species, with canoe and kayak tours available if you want to see its wildlife from the water.

It’s not just the everglades worth a visit here, though. In the wider Great Sandy National Park, you’ll find hidden-away beaches, tumbling sand dunes and sprawling rainforests – best explored by 4×4 – while elsewhere in the hinterlands lie the Glass House Mountains, a cluster of volcanic, craggy peaks offering excellent hiking and exceptional views.

Much of Queensland’s charm lies beneath the surface, of course, and if you’re looking to explore the region’s colourful marine life, the Whitsunday Islands should be high on your list.

There are plenty of options for sailing trips here, with key spots including the talcum-sand Whitehaven Beach and paradise-worthy Hamilton Island. Book a Whitehaven Camira Sailing Adventure to explore the first, or if you fancy getting properly back to nature, opt for the two-day Reeflseep, which combines snorkelling and optional diving with dinner and a night sleeping under the stars.

There’s more in the way of world-class snorkelling and diving in Cairns – the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, where dwarf minke whales, manta rays, turtles and groupers inhabit the surrounding waters.

But it’s not only about the marine life here – two hours away sits the Daintree Rainforest; the oldest tropical rainforest in the world, believed to date back around 180 million years. Saltwater crocodiles, kaleidoscopic butterflies and an array of tropical birds inhabit this ancient landscape, with waterfalls, creeks and swimming holes hidden among the trees.

Head out on a riverboat cruise to take it all in, or book an indigenous-led tour to learn more about the Daintree’s Aboriginal people; this vast, heritage-filled wilderness is Australia at its most quintessential, and a perfect symbol of Queensland’s striking diversity.

Book it: Combine Queensland’s natural highlights on Travelbag’s Queensland Ocean & Rainforest Experience, or get in touch with Travelbag’s experts for a private, tailor-made trip to suit.

Could we be heading for a winter general election?

The local elections on 2 May were going to spell the end for Rishi Sunak, according to the handful of plotters against him among Conservative MPs. They warned that he might even call a general election to forestall a leadership challenge.

Now some of the prime minister’s own people are speculating that he might call a general election after 2 May for the opposite reason – not because the results will be disastrous, but because they will be surprisingly good. If Andy Street, the Tory mayor of the West Midlands, and Ben Houchen, the Tory mayor of Tees Valley, are re-elected, the argument goes, Sunak should cash in on the good news before the inevitable attrition of events resumes.

“You have the ­element of surprise while, if you wait until the autumn, you’ve basically boxed yourself in and allow Labour to attack you for hanging on,” a Downing Street source told The Times.

Before we come to whether or not this is a persuasive argument, however, we need to assess the chances of Sunak being able to claim the local elections as a good result for the Conservatives.

In my view, most of the elections to be held on 2 May are a write-off for the Tories. They will lose a lot of local council seats and the BBC will calculate a low “projected national share” of the vote – although it won’t be as low as it could be, because Reform, the former Brexit Party, is contesting only one seat in seven. Most of these seats were last contested in 2021, when Boris Johnson was riding the vaccine bounce and Labour lost its safe Hartlepool seat in a parliamentary by-election.

There will be a by-election at the same time as the local elections this time, too, but Labour’s Chris Webb is so certain to win Tory-held Blackpool South that the party is sending its resources elsewhere.

Susan Hall, the Tory candidate for mayor of London, will lose badly to Sadiq Khan, although not as badly as London’s current status as a Labour city would suggest.

There are three contests to watch elsewhere: Street in the West Midlands, Ben Houchen in Tees Valley, and Jamie Driscoll, the independent (formerly Labour) mayor of North of Tyne, who is running for the new, bigger mayoralty of the North East.

Opinion polls published in the past few days have suggested that Street and Houchen can win – Street was 14 points behind in one poll, two points ahead in another; Houchen was tied with Chris McEwan, his Labour opponent, in the only representative poll so far in Tees Valley.

Street is campaigning in green and purple colours, with little Conservative branding, proving that an independent-minded mayor with good name recognition can buck the national trend. (Before Labour partisans accuse him of being embarrassed by his party, they should note that Andy Burnham is running for re-election in Greater Manchester as “Andy”, without any Labour branding.)

Street’s slogan, “Lots Done, More To Do…”, is an example, borrowed from Tony Blair in 2001, of the kind of campaign that Sunak wanted to run in the general election, had he not been weighed down by the 14-year Tory record and the ill-judged five promises he made last year.

Even so, if Street and Houchen win, it will suggest there is some life in the Tory parrot yet. And if Driscoll wins in the North East, it will make the case that support for Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is lukewarm – more an anti-Tory reflex than a positive vote for change. Driscoll is a soft Corbynite who was excluded without explanation by Labour HQ from running as the official Labour candidate for the new mayoralty.

These are the kind of arguments that I believe Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, is urging Sunak to consider. If the Tees Valley result on Friday and the West Midlands result on Saturday are Tory wins, the prime minister could make an announcement on Tuesday (Monday is the early May bank holiday), dissolve parliament on Wednesday and hold an election on 13 June.

This would probably mean not waiting for Rwanda flights to take off; it would contradict Sunak’s “working assumption” that the election would be in the second half of the year; but it would seize the initiative and, with luck, cut short more months of the equivalent of stories of Tory MPs phoning elderly aides at 3am to ask for large sums of money to pay off “bad people”.

Above all, it would cut short the endless speculation about the election date, which will otherwise drag on, adding to the impression that Sunak is dithering, and giving Labour more time to accuse him of “squatting” in Downing Street.

All the same, I don’t think it will happen. I have no inside knowledge – and nor, ultimately, does anyone else, because Sunak hasn’t decided yet. But I think the forces acting upon him tend towards delay. Prime ministers tend not to give up power before they have to, with the recent exceptions of Harold Wilson, Tony Blair and Theresa May. But each of those cases was very different from Sunak’s today.

It is rumoured that Akshata, Sunak’s wife, is keen to get out of No 10. That is not what it looks like from her Instagram or from the No 10 Flickr account, both full of photos of her hyperactive charitable activities in Downing Street.

Of course it is possible, as the gloomy Dowden fears, that things will go on getting worse. That if the Rwanda flights take off the small boats will keep coming; that more money in voters’ pockets will simply lead them to think they can afford a Labour government; that Nigel Farage and Reform will continue to syphon away core Tory votes.

But we should remember the personality type that goes into politics. As Matthew Parris writes of the risk-taking that led him, as an MP, to cruise for sex on Clapham Common: “People who want to be MPs have an enlarged appetite for status, fame and applause, an exaggerated belief in their own chances, and a stunted appreciation of risk.”

Sunak is obviously no risk-taker in his private life, but he certainly has an “exaggerated belief” in his own chances. He thinks that he, and he alone, can turn things round if he is just given time.

So I don’t think there will be an election in June or July. The next likely date, after a pre-election Budget, would be 10 October. But the prime minister is just as likely to go for 14 November, or 12 December, which would be exactly five years after the last election.

Keir Starmer should back the EU youth mobility scheme

Rishi Sunak has rejected the surprise proposal from Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, for a youth mobility scheme that would make it easier for young Britons to live, study and work in the EU.

Ms Von der Leyen said on Thursday that the commission would seek permission from EU member states to open negotiations for a scheme allowing UK citizens aged 18-30 to come to the EU, and EU young people to come to the UK.

The scheme would continue to exclude the UK from EU freedom of movement rules, requiring a visa, evidence of sufficient funds to sustain a living, and health insurance.