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30 December 2009updated 07 Sep 2021 6:51am

Bite-sized briefing: UK

By Staff Blogger

The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, ordered a review of libel laws. A panel of lawyers, academics and newspaper editors is due to report back on whether libel laws in England and Wales need reform by mid-March.

A British man was executed in a Chinese prison. Akmal Shaikh had been convicted of drug smuggling but had denied wrongdoing. He was said to be mentally ill and the UK government had made pleas on his behalf. He was the first EU national to be executed in China in 50 years.

Unemployment in 2010 will peak at 2.8 million, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said. The forecast is lower than earlier predictions. There are now 2.49 million jobless people in Britain – 7.9 per cent of the population. Below-inflation pay rises are expected for those in work.

In the north of England, Labour regained its lead over the Tories, according to an ICM poll. Analysis in September and October suggested the Tories had a lead in the north for the first time since Margaret Thatcher’s era. But new figures indicate 44 per cent of those certain they will vote backed Labour, against 28 per cent for the Tories.

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The UK’s economic growth over the past decade was the lowest since the Second World War, the Financial Times reported. On average, GDP rose by 1.7 per cent annually between 2000 and 2009. Manufacturing was one of the worst-performing areas and contracted by 1.2 per cent per year.

Millions face an average inheritance tax liability of £60,000, the Tories claimed, thanks to the government’s decision to freeze the threshold
at £325,000 rather than raise it. The party said 4.3 million people would be affected. The announcement was an attempt to counter Labour’s portrayal of the Tories as defenders of privilege. But the Treasury says that fewer than 3 per cent of estates are hit.

David Taylor, the Labour MP for North-West Leicestershire and backbencher of the year in 2007, died suddenly after a heart attack. The government may now face a by-election just weeks before it must call a general election.

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Plans for a high-speed rail link to replace short-haul flights were submitted to the government. The line will reach from London to the West Midlands and then Scotland. It is hoped that the first stretch of the route could open by 2025.

David Cameron claimed that the Tories and Liberal Democrats now have more in common. The Conservatives have recently made friendly overtures to their rival party’s politicians and voters. But the Lib Dem chief of staff, Danny Alexander, dismissed the claims as “vacuous spin”.

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