Ten things you won’t hear about while the press navel-gazes about Leveson and regulation

News keeps happening, some of it quite important.

 

1. The Department for Work and Pensions has introduced emergency legislation to "protect the national economy" from a £130m payout to jobseekers deemed to have been unlawfully punished. The so-called “Poundland” ruling would potentially entitle thousands of people to financial rebates after the court of appeal declared that almost all of the government's "work-for-your-benefit" employment schemes were unlawful. The legislation is will come before the Commons tomorrow as the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill.

2. Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, the Steubenville high school football players, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old after a party in August last year. It’s become a national story in the US – a CNN reporter was accused of being a “rape apologist”

3.  The Public Accounts Committee have declared HMRC’s handling of taxpayers’ calls has been "unambitious and woefully inadequate”. HMRC received 79 million calls in 2011-12, but 20 million of these calls were not answered. On top of that, just last week HMRC announced it was to close all of its 281 enquiry centres in 2014. 

4. The inquest into the death in prison of a man convicted of stealing a gingerbread man during the riots in 2011 opens today. He died in Wandsworth prison in August 2011. He had a history of mental illness and physical problems, which his foster family say were not addressed by the prison.

5. BP is taking legal action to limit the compensation it has to pay to people affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The company says some of the claims being paid are "fictitious" and "absurd".

6. David Bowie is number one again, for the first time in twenty years.

7. Greek footballer Giorgos Katidis has been banned from playing for the national team for life after he made what's been called a Nazi salute after scoring the winning goal during a match on Saturday.

8. Another gang rape has taken place in India – five men have been arrested and two more suspects are wanted after a Swiss woman was attacked while camping with her husband in a forest on a cycling holiday.

9. There are fears that once the French withdraw from Mali next month, the remaining African forces wouldn’t be able to cope with a resurgent terror threat from al-Qaeda.

10. We’re not going to get spring until after Easter, apparently. What?

 

A navel to gaze upon. This one belongs to Rihanna. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

Getty
Show Hide image

Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.