Issue 32: 2015 12 10: Week in Brief: UK

10 December 2015

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

STORM DESMOND: Record rainfall in Cumbria has led to widespread flooding with much of the city of Carlisle underwater.  The 15.9 inches of rain which fell within a 48-hour period at Thirlmere, Cumbria, was a new record, beating the previous record of 15.6 inches set in 2009.  Water levels also set new records, being substantially above those in 2005, which themselves exceeded those set in 1853.  About 5,000 homes have had to be evacuated and it has been estimated that cleanup costs will be at least £100 million.  The government has said that it will meet the costs incurred by local authorities in dealing with the problem.

The flooding raises a number of issues:

  • whether it should have been foreseen: flooding at this level is very exceptional but research carried out by Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment in 2010 found that there had been an increased occurrence of exceptional rainfall in the area.  Guidance for planning and managing flood risk issued by the Environment Agency was based on 2006 figures;
  • whether it results from global warming: although Liz Truss, Secretary of State for the Environment, was quick to blame climate change, scientists have been more cautious.  Dame Julia Slingo, Chief Scientist at the Meteorological Office,has said that evidence pointed to climate change as “being a factor”;
  • whether the damage has been increased by a failure to spend sufficiently on flood defences: new flood defence barriers were built at Carlisle following flooding in 2005.  These were insufficient to deal with the water which arrived this week.  Although spending on flooding and erosion is £116 million less than last year, much of the decrease reflects the fact that the previous level of expenditure was exceptional.  £2.3 billion is due to be spent on 1500 flood defence scheme over the next six years but it appears that a number of schemes which had been due to start in 2010 were cancelled or postponed to save money.

The Prime Minister visited the scene of the flooding.

OLDHAM: The Labour Party held Oldham West and Royton in a by-election following the death of Michael Meacher.  On a turnout of just over 40%, Labour took 62% of the vote, an increase of 7.3% on the General Election, UKIP increased their share of the vote by 2.8% and the Conservative share was down by 9.6%.  The Liberal Democrat’s percentage of the vote was down by a fraction.

PARKING CHARGES: According to the RAC Foundation, total income from council parking for the year 2014/15 was £1,450,000,000.  That is an increase of 2% on the previous year and just under half of the income represented profit.  16% of local authorities made a loss on parking.  The remainder made a profit.

HEALTH: Research by King’s College, London into satisfaction ratings for Britain’s GPs indicate that surgeries which limit prescription of antibiotics are less popular with their patients.  A reduction in the prescription of antibiotics is an important plank in the fight against superbugs which threatened to make bacteria antibiotic resistant.

CALAIS: According to the port of Calais, no migrants have reached the UK through the tunnel or by ferry since twenty-first of October.  However there is continual violence as French police struggle to prevent migrants from stowing away on lorries bound for the UK.  Police numbers have risen to 1760.

GREENBELT: A consultation on planning reform is to propose a loosening of the rules against building on green belt land.  The idea is to change policy so that small scale sites within the green belt can be made available for the building of starter homes.

EUROPEAN REFERENDUM: The House of Commons has reversed a resolution by the Lords allowing sixteen and seventeen-year-olds to vote in the EU referendum.  Under parliamentary rules the matter will not go back to the House of Lord’s because the change would have involved additional expenditure.

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, has indicated that, although it should be possible to meet Mr Cameron’s demands to protect the single market for non-euro countries, to improve regulation and to prevent countries being drawn unwillingly into a closer union, the proposal to restrict in-work benefits for EU migrants was much more difficult and would need to be discussed between member states.  The UK is, of course, phasing out in-work benefits as part of the arrangements under which the living wage was introduced.

MONA LISA: It is understood that a new technique known as the Layer Amplification Method has revealed that the Mona Lisa is painted on top of another painting by Leonardo.  The suggestion is that Lisa Gherardini, after whom the painting has been named, was in fact in the sitter for the painting underneath and that the top painting is of Pacifica Brandano, the mistress of one of the Medici.  The Louvre has declined to comment.

TUBE ATTACKER: Muhaydin Mire, a Somalia-born Briton, has been charged with attempted murder following a knife attack at Leightonstone underground station on Saturday.  Although Mr Mire shouted “this is for Syria” during the attack it seems that it was linked to his history of mental health issues.

THREATENING BEHAVIOUR: Craig Wallace, a Muslim who had been radicalised in prison, has been remanded in custody following a conviction for putting abusive and threatening comments on Facebook.  These included a threat to bomb the house of Charlotte Leslie, Tory MP for Bristol North West.

Neil Coyle, the Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, has been given police protection following a death threat by an anti-war activist.  Other MPs who voted for bombing missions over Syria have also been threatened, with Hilary Benn being told on Twitter that he would never be able to walk the streets of Leeds without protection again.

BBC: Alan Yentob has resigned as creative director of the BBC, shortly before the editorial standards committee was due to consider whether there was a conflict between his role and his directorship of the failed charity Kids Company.

COURT FEES: Newly introduced arrangements under which criminals have to pay fees to the courts which convict them are to be scrapped.  A number of magistrates had already resigned over the issue.  Scrapping the court fees policy represents the withdrawal by Michael Gove of yet another initiative introduced by his predecessor Chris Grayling.

HEATHROW: The long awaited decision on whether the proposed additional runway should be at Heathrow or Gatwick has been postponed yet again pending further research on environmental impact.  A recent report suggested that no approval should be given to a further runway at Heathrow until the airport had demonstrated that it can meet environmental standards.

LORD JANNER: Mr Justice Openshaw has ruled that Labour peer Lord Janner is not fit to stand trial at the Old Bailey because of advanced dementia.  Last year Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, was heavily criticised for ruling that Lord Janner should not be tried, a ruling which was subsequently reversed.

STOP THE WAR COALITION: There is speculation as to whether Mr Corbyn will speak at the coalition’s fundraising event next Friday.  Stop the War has had to withdraw a number of intemperate blogs from its site.

GLASGOW BIN LORRY TRAGEDY: The family of Erin McQuade, who died with her grandparents when a bin lorry careered out of control in Glasgow in 2010, is to prosecute the driver privately on the grounds that he had obtained his licence by making deliberate misstatements about his history of blackouts.  The Crown Office in Scotland had decided not to prosecute.

TURNER PRIZE: This year’s Turner prize goes to a collective of craftsmen and designers who transformed a derelict council estate in Toxteth, Glasgow.

BOXING: The nomination of Tyson Fury, the world champion boxer, as a contender for BBC Sports Personality of the Year has proved contentious because of his unconventional views on homosexuality and the role of women.  Fury’s defenders say that his world title was a supreme sporting achievement and that his eccentric views have little to do with it.


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