15 June 2017
Week in Brief: UK
HIGH RISE FIRE: Grenfell Tower, a 24 story residential block of flats in West Kensington, caught fire in the early hours of Wednesday. The block, which was built by the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council in 1994 and refurbished last year, contained 120 flats. It was gutted by the fire which was attended by 250 firefighters. Although at the time of writing only 12 deaths have been confirmed, the number is likely to rise substantially. The cause of the blaze is unknown.
GENERAL ELECTION RESULT: The final score following last week’s general election was as follows: Conservatives – 318, Labour – 262, SNP – 35, Liberal Democrats – 12, Greens – 1, others – 12. That leaves the Conservatives eight seats short of a majority and reliant on support from the Democratic Unionist Party to govern. The election result was full of surprises. Kensington fell to Labour as did other traditionally Conservative seats such as Canterbury. On the other hand the Conservatives took Mansfield, Stoke on Trent and Middlesbrough. In Scotland the SNP were pushed back by all three parties, the Conservatives taking 13 seats.
Overall there seem to be three main themes. The first is a movement towards Labour in Remain constituencies. Presumably this is in response to Mrs May’s comment that no deal would be preferable to a bad deal. Second, there was a clear resentment of austerity, particularly by the younger generation. Third, Scottish electors have been repelled by the separatist agenda of the SNP.
It is unclear how things will develop, but for the moment Mrs May remains in power on the basis of an expected confidence and supply agreement with the Democratic Unionists. That is way short of a formal coalition and simply means that the Democratic Unionists would support the government in votes of confidence and votes of money (in practice that means support on the Queen’s Speech and the Budget). On specific measures the Government would have to persuade other parties to vote with it. Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionists, is in discussion with the Prime Minister over the details.
The Queen’s Speech has been postponed in order to give the government time to trim the policies set out in its manifesto. Michael Gove has rejoined the Cabinet as the Environment Secretary and Damian Green will run the Cabinet Office as “First Secretary of State”. Mrs May’s previous minders, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, have resigned.
LiB DEMS: Yim Farron has resigned the leadership of the Liberal Democrats citing difficulties in reconcilin his Christian principles with his leadership of the party.
ABBOTT DIABETES: Diane Abbott, the shadow Home Secretary, has revealed that she has type 2 diabetes which affected her during the election campaign when she faced a series of interviews without sufficient food.
TRUMP VISIT POSTPONED: It is understood that the proposed state visit by Mr Trump to the UK is to be postponed. Apparently Mr Trump told Mrs May that he would not come to Britain if it was likely that there would be large protests against him.
TERRORISM: Britain and France have proposed heavy fines for technology companies which fail to remove jihardist propaganda and terrorist guidelines from their websites, at counterterrorism talks in Paris. The German government is also anxious to change the law so that security agencies can read encrypted information.
FRACKING: The National Trust is refusing to allow Ineos Shale to carry out seismic tests at Clumber Park as part of its survey of shale gas reserves. The Trust has refused to discuss the matter with Ineos on the basis that fossil gas is not renewable and that its use will contribute to climate change. Ineos has a government licence to explore 1.2 million acres and legal powers to obtain access to land under the Mines Act 1966.
UNNECESSARY OPERATIONS: Work by Andrew Carr, Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Oxford, indicates that a number of routine operations carried out by the national health service have no medical benefit other than as a placebo. The operations include knee arthroscopics, migraine incisions and stomach balloons. A common form of shoulder surgery which is performed on some 10,000 patients a year is still being examined.
FARSEEING FOOTBALLERS: Research published in the journal Science and Medicine in Football reveals that Premier League players are sharper sighted than the public generally, with defenders having an edge over attackers. This is unlikely to undermine the consensus amongst supporters that most referees are blind.
MURDER: French police investigating the death of Russian whistle blower Alexander Perepilichnyy, who was found by a roadside in Surrey shortly after his return from France where he may have been poisoned, claim that they are being hampered by the failure of their British counterparts to share evidence. The British view is that Mr Perepilichnyy, who had exposed a £150 million money-laundering operation for Russian officials, died of natural causes. US agents claim that shortly before his death they told MI6 that he was likely to be assassinated.
MORE KNIVES: According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of people convicted or cautioned for offences involving knives in the first three months of this year showed an increase of 11% over the 2016 figure. The total number was 5184 and the increase was spread over police authorities generally.
Education and Charities
RSPCA: Jeremy Cooper, the chief executive of the RSPCA, has resigned. Mr Cooper, who introduced a new five-year strategy for the reform of the charity, had only been in post for 15 months. The RSPCA, which faces a decline in membership and receipts, has been criticised for its aggression towards pet owners and farmers, and for the large amounts of money spent on anti-hunting prosecutions. The Charity Commission has placed the charity under formal observation and threatened to take further action unless its standards of governance improve.
ISLAMIC SCHOOL: Jamia Al-Hudaa Residential College for Girls, an Islamic boarding school in Nottingham, is likely to remain open after inspectors saw major changes in the education being provided. When previously inspected the school had pushed pupils towards the teaching of Islam and away from other careers. Now, however, the curriculum has been broadened, pupils have been encouraged to mix with the community and career advisers have been brought in.
EDUCATION DATA: Comprehensive data has been published by the government giving median salaries five years after graduation for different university courses. At the top were business degrees in Economics and Management from Oxford (£71,700) and Economics from the LSE (£55,200). Law courses and degrees in computer scientists did much less well.
DIVORCE: In a departure from the general rule that assets accumulated during marriage should be split equally, the Court of Appeal has ruled that ex-husband Robin Sharp is only entitled to £2 million out of£5,450,000 accumulated during his marriage because the marriage was short, there were no children, finances had been kept separate and Mrs Sharp had made the major contribution. This represents a change to established practice and will, no doubt, give rise to uncertainty as the implications are worked through.
SQUEEZE: Visa has recorded a decline of 0.8% between consumer spending last month and consumer spending in May 2016. This reflects a drop in real wages as inflation rises to 2.9%. The decline corroborates figures from the fashion industry which show declining sales.
MOBILE PHONES: As from today no extra fees will be chargeable on British mobile phone users when they use their regular allowance from elsewhere in the EU.
GAY MARRIAGE: The Scottish Episcopal Church has become the first within the Anglican community to conduct gay marriages. However only priests who decide to “opt in” will officiate.
ROBOT SHIPS: The International Maritime Organisation is considering whether to change its rules to allow un-crewed ships to sail between international destinations. Such ships are already permitted in coastal waters and the first robot container ship is due to be launched next year.
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