27 April 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Science

NEAR STRIKE: Asteroid 2014 JO 25, more than 1.3 km wide and travelling at 75,000 mph, passed 1.1 million miles from earth last week.  It is at least 30 times the mass of the meteor which exploded over Chelyabinsk in 2013 causing injuries to more than 1400 people.  The Asteroid will not come as close again for another 500 years. (For scientific analysis see Chin Chin)

Election

PRE-ELECTION BUSINESS: The sudden general election has meant that Parliamentary business has either to be completed before Parliament is dissolved (probably this week) or postponed.  This involves compromises between the government and those who wish to amend bills.  One possible area of negotiation is whether or not foreign students should be included in the immigration figures.  A number of Cabinet ministers, including Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond, are said to be in favour of excluding them on the basis that education is really a UK export.  To date Mrs May has refused to do so.  It is understood that that the proposed increase in probate fees will now wait until after the election.

CANDIDATES: As candidates are sorted out prior to the 11 May nomination date, Ken Clarke, the 76-year-old former Conservative Chancellor, has put himself forward to defend Rushcliffe; George Osborne, Eric Pickles and George Howarth have each decided to stand down.  On the other hand Vince Cable, Simon Hughes and possibly Zac Goldsmith will be seeking to re-enter Parliament.  Tony Blair has called on voters to support candidates opposed to Brexit regardless of their political party.

TRADE UNION AND SOCIALIST COALITION: The TUSC and the Communist Party of Britain have each said that they will not oppose Labour candidates on June 8.  That could be out of respect for Mr Corbyn and his views or it could be a matter of finance.  The TUSC lost its deposit in 135 seats in 2015, costing it over £65,000, presumably no small matter to an organisation which polled a total of 36,327 votes.  Then there must have been the cost of leaflets etc.  This election will come a lot cheaper.

DIESEL DELAY: The government has used the pre-election purdah period to avoid a deadline of 24th of April imposed by the High Court for the publication of its proposals to cut emissions.  The plan is now to publish on 30 June.  The proposals are highly sensitive because of the threat posed by diesels to public health and the fact that many car owners bought diesel vehicles with the encouragement of government.

See comments The Distortion Of The Political Process and Statistics And Other Fibs.

Brexit

EU COMMISSION: It appears from leaked guidelines that the EU may demand that European employment law should apply to EU citizens working in the UK.  Presumably that would be matched by the 900,000 British citizens living in Europe being governed by British law.  This improbable suggestion, together with a possible proposal that security cooperation be overseen by the European Court of Justice, is likely to give rise to conflict if Mrs May is returned to Downing Street.

National debt

GOVERNMENT BORROWING: According to the Office of National Statistics, the deficit is now down to £52 billion or 2.6% of gross domestic profit, the lowest level for nine years.  It is important to remember, however, that the deficit is the rate of increase in national debt which stands at a record £1.73 trillion and that the annual figures are helped by low interest rates.  Currently interest on the debt costs the UK around £36 billion a year but that could easily increase with borrowing costs.  A £58 billion deficit is forecast for next year.

Health and wellbeing

PISA SURVEY: An OECD Pisa survey into the lives of 15-year-old children across 72 countries has revealed high anxiety levels among UK teenagers, especially girls.  Also revealed is that British 15-year-olds spend an average of 188 minutes each weekday on the Internet outside school hours, the highest figure in Europe and well above the OECD average of 146.  British teenagers are more concerned about tests than teenagers in other countries and also very ambitious.  Girls are more stressed than boys and more prone to psychological disorders.

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE: According to research published in Brain there is a possibility that the drug trazodone or the experimental anti-cancer compound dibenzoylmethane will prove effective in curing Alzheimer’s disease.  Because trazodone is known to be safe (it is used in another context), it should be possible to move straight to clinical trials.  Its success in rejuvenating the brains of mice may of course not be replicated with human guinea pigs (as it were).

Crime and the law

SHOOT TO KILL: Use by terrorists worldwide of vehicles as weapons has led to changes in police tactics. Whereas previously the rule was that officers did not fire at a driver for fear of collateral damage, it is now accepted that this is often the only way to halt an attack.  The number of armed police in the UK is being increased and is expected to reach 10,000 next year.

CHINESE FRAUDS: Ms Hillier, successor to Margaret Hodge as chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, has asked the National Audit Office to investigate allegations that Chinese gangs are using Britain as a way to import goods into Europe without VAT.

LEIGH DAY: The Solicitors Regulation Authority is currently hearing allegations against Leigh Day, two of its partners and one of its associates, that evidence which undermined claims against British armed forces personnel in Iraq was suppressed, and that the firm continued to act despite having evidence that its clients were being manipulated.  The Tribunal was told that the firm paid more than £1.6 million to bring in the business, which generated almost £10 million in fees.  Allegations made by the firm on behalf of its clients resulted in a public enquiry which collapsed at a cost of £29 million.

STRIPED HOUSE: Kensington and Chelsea Council were held to have made a technical error in ordering a resident to repaint her house.  The High Court held that, although the house, which had been painted with red and white stripes, is in a conservation area, the notice to return it to its original colour had been given under the wrong part of the planning code.

CAR KILLING: A man had been arrested on suspicion of the murder of Michael Sandwell, an ex-Royal Naval officer who was run down with his own car as he tried to prevent its theft at the weekend.

Miscellaneous

CHEAP FLIGHTS: Budget flights from London to Singapore are to be introduced in September by Norwegian air.  They are expected to cost less than half of the current lowest tariff.

UNITE: Gerard Coyne, who unsuccessfully challenged Len McCluskey for the leadership of Unite, has been suspended from the post of regional secretary without any reason being given.

DOCUMENT FOUND: A nearly contemporaneous parchment copy of the US Declaration of Independence has been found in the West Sussex County Archives.  It is believed to have been created some 10 years after the 1776 copy which hangs in the National Archives in Washington.

THE SOUND OF MONEY: 913 gold sovereigns have been found in a piano by a piano tuner at a school in Shropshire.  One half of the value of the find goes to the tuner himself as treasure trove.  The other half goes to the school which recently received the piano as a gift.  The donors said that they were happy that the money was going to be used by the community.

BBC FUNDING: A report by the National Audit Office has found that although the overall number of BBC staff has dropped by 4% over the last five years with a decrease in 6% in the money spent on salaries, the number of senior managers has actually risen from 89 to 98, an increase from 1% of the payroll to 1.6%. The BBC defends this by saying that managers have added responsibilities.

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