Issue 62: 2016 07 14: Week in Brief: UK

14 July 2016

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right


PRIME MINISTER: Following Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the contest, Theresa May was left as the only candidate for the leadership of the Conservative party and accordingly became Prime Minister on Wednesday.

See comment The Chilcot Report and Mrs May.

LABOUR LEADERSHIP: Angela Eagle has issued a challenge for the Labour leadership and it is understood that Owen Smith, previously shadow minister for work and pensions, will also be entering the contest. The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party has ruled by 18-14 that Mr Corbyn may stand as a candidate in the election without the need to secure 51 nominations from MPs and MEPs.  The vote is expected to take place before the end of September and those eligible to vote will be those who have been party members for at least six months, together with supporters who have registered by paying £25 each.

CHILCOT: Weighing in at an unreadable 2.6million words, the Chilcot report into the Iraq war was published on Thursday of last week.  It is highly critical both of the decision to go to war and of the way in which that decision was implemented.  The report criticises the Blair administration for invading Iraq without a resolution from the Security Council at a time when Iraq did not present an imminent threat and there were other possible avenues open.  A memorandum from Mr Blair to Mr Bush which began with the words “I will be with you, whatever” showed an over-commitment to the Americans over whom Mr Blair had less influence than he supposed. There was also criticism of the fact that Lord Goldsmith’s advice to the Cabinet was not in writing and that evidence provided to the government by MI6 was flawed. On the operational side, the military were over confident as to their capacity and the equipment provided to them was inadequate.  Most disastrous of all, however, there was no adequate plan for the future of Iraq after the invasion.

Mr Blair, in responding to the report, confessed to “sorrow, regret and apology” for mistakes made, but maintained that invasion had been the correct course in the circumstances. Commentators in France and Russia, both countries which opposed the war in Iraq, claimed to be vindicated.

DEPLOYMENT: Britain is to deploy 650 troops to reinforce the East European border of NATO in order to deter Russian aggression. The move is likely to attract protest from Russia although, because the status of the deployment is “enduring” rather than “permanent”, it does not breach existing agreements. 500 of the troops will be stationed in Estonia and the rest in Poland. Britain is also due to take over the leadership of NATO’s “very high readiness” task force with 3000 British troops stationed in Britain and Germany making up the bulk of the 5000 force.

BRUSSELS: Sir Julian King, a career diplomat, has been nominated to succeed Lord Hill of Oareford who resigned as Britain’s EU Commissioner following the Brexit vote.

WOMEN SOLDIERS: The ban on women taking close combat roles in the British armed services is being removed.  Initially they will be permitted to serve in tanks and armoured vehicles.  It is expected that they will begin to join the infantry in 2018.


PATIENT DATA: George Freeman, the life sciences minister, has confirmed that the care data scheme under which GPs’ records would be held on a central database so that NHS managers could use them to supervise care, has been dropped.  The government is committed to other forms of data sharing, however, and is launching a consultation on recommendations by Dame Fiona Caldicott, the National Data Guardian.  She has suggested that patients should not be able to object to anonymised data being passed to the Health and Social Care Information Centre provided there is no risk of patients being identified and has recommended that trying to identify individuals from that data be made a criminal offence.

JUNIOR DOCTORS: The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has told the House of Commons that as, following the rejection by a ballot of junior doctors of the compromise agreed by the BMA, there was no longer any prospect of a negotiated settlement, the Government would impose new contracts on junior doctors by law beginning this October.

SURGICAL ERRORS: Last year there were 135 cases of surgeons operating on the wrong body part. That compares with 54 cases four years ago. According to NHS sources the increase in reported cases reflects more openness rather than an increase in the number of errors.

SOCIAL SERVICES: A report by the Directors of Adult Social Services indicates that to maintain care for the elderly at last year’s level would require another £1.1 billion of funding. The National Living Wage has put stress on budgets and there are more elderly and disabled people than was previously the case.


TRUANTS: Information obtained by Santander Bank from 129 local authorities under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that the number of fines for taking children out of school for the academic year 2014/5 was 92,784, more than three times the  total for 2012/13.  The money raised by the fines, which run at £60 per parent per child, was £5.6 million.

OFSTED: The Commons Education Committee has refused to support the appointment of Amanda Spielman as Chief Inspector of Schools on the grounds that she showed insufficient passion for the job and also that she attached insufficient importance to building bridges with teachers.  Mrs Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, has overruled the Committee’s decision, her action being backed by the Association of School and College Leaders.

MATHEMATICS TEACHING: The government is making funds available to enable up to 8000 primary schools to change their approach to teaching mathematics by adopting methods used in Shanghai. These place more emphasis on rote learning and less on trying to apply mathematics to real world situations. Fifteen-year-old children in Shanghai are three years more advanced in mathematics than fifteen-year-olds in England. There will be no compulsion.  Schools may choose whether to adopt the new method or not.


FRACKING: The Committee on Climate Change has given support to the government’s fracking programme by saying that British shale gas could have a lower carbon footprint than liquefied gas imported from elsewhere. The committee called for regulations to prevent the escape of methane, which is a greenhouse gas, and added that there would need to be reductions in consumption if emission targets were to be met by 2050.

HS2: Proposals for a new station near Sheffield have been abandoned.  Instead there will be a spur line so that trains can travel to the existing station in the city centre.  The change is expected to save £768 million but means that it will not be possible to travel direct from Sheffield to Leeds.

SOUTHERN RAIL: A demonstration was held at Victoria station to protest against the failure by Southern Rail to improve punctuality following the withdrawal of 341 trains from the timetable.  The Southern Rail service, Britain’s worst for customer satisfaction, has suffered as a result of a dispute over whether train drivers should be allowed to open the doors at stations, a practice which the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union says is unsafe.

Crime and Courts

HATE CRIME: According to the Crown Prosecution Service there were 941 prosecutions for disability hate crime last year, an increase of 41%. There has also been an increase in hate crime generally since the EU referendum.

MURDER: Tanveer Ahmed, a Sunni Muslim, has pleaded guilty to the murder of Asad Shah, the Glaswegian shopkeeper who posted a message on Facebook wishing people a happy Easter and referring to his “beloved Christian nation”.  Ahmed will be sentenced in August.

SIR CLIFF RICHARD: Cliff Richard is suing the BBC and South Yorkshire Police for £1 million in respect of their behaviour when his flat was searched in August 2014. He says that it was a gross intrusion on his privacy, had affected his health and had damaged his reputation.  No charges were made against Sir Cliff following the search and both the BBC and South Yorkshire police apologised to him following the decision by the Crown Prosecution Services to take no action.

CHARGED: A man has been charged with the murder of children’s author Helen Bailey who disappeared on April 11 after leaving home with her dachshund. Neither she nor the dog have been seen since.


TENNIS: Andy Murray won the men’s singles at Wimbledon for the second time, beating Milos Raonic 6-4,7-6, 7-6. Serena Williams won the womens’ singles.


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