John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: November 25, 2016 Last modified: November 18, 2016

Lady Midnight
Prime Minister Theresa May has been given an object lesson on her personal standing with the US president-elect. May, who weighed in with criticism of Trump after his reckless pledge last year to cut entry rights for Muslims into America, found herself at the back of the international pecking order as the diplomatic niceties were underway. Last in the queue meant that Britain took tenth place in the line up for telephone calls from the Republican victor – after the leaders of countries including Egypt, Japan, Mexico and Ireland, whose Enda Kenny is the first due to visit the White House next year. Meanwhile, the UK’s man in Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, is taking flak for failing to have taken the possibility of a Trump victory seriously. According to the Daily Telegraph he did not “cultivate relations with the Trump team” sufficiently.

Last year’s man
Ex-chancellor George Osborne has earned almost £100,000 for three speeches in the last two months, the Parliamentary register of interests revealed. Appearances at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association in Washington on 27 September and 18 October will earn him £69,992. He was also due £28,454.40 for a speech on 17 October to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California. Mr Osborne signed up with a US speakers agency after being sacked in July. The total earnings of £98,446.40 was for four-and-a-half hours of work. Osborne, who was chancellor between 2010 and 2016, is also paid £74,962 a year as the MP for Tatton in Cheshire. Former prime ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Sir John Major, as well as ex-US president George W Bush, are also on the books of the Washington Speakers Bureau. The company, which offers after-dinner speeches, describes Mr Osborne on its website as “a principled leader who served as the chief financial minister in the British Government” who was responsible for a “dramatic improvement” in the UK economy. It says he is a “modern and renowned global leader” who offers audiences “authentic and forward-thinking analysis of the world’s most complex economic issues, and the way forward for Britain and the world economy”. There are big bucks to be made from failure.
My oh my
More than one in three academy trusts have declared related-party transactions and paid money to businesses with links to staff and trustees. Peter Lauener, chief executive of the Education Funding Agency, said that last year 1,055 of the 2,905 academy trusts submitting accounts had related-party transactions. He said 74 (7%) of these warranted further scrutiny by the government, with 24 trusts found to have broken rules when making payments to related parties. He also said that last year there were 50 individual related-party transactions of more than £250,000 – amounting to around £13 million in total. The admission follows regular media coverage of such payments, most recently the Wakefield City Academies Trust which paid nearly £450,000 to companies belonging to its interim chief executive and his daughter. Worries have also been raised about transactions involving the Bright Tribe multi-academy trust. Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham, asked whether trusts should be outlawed from such related transactions.

Ian Hodson, National Presidentof the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, clearly cannot stomach Theresa May. He blogged: “The only people responsible for the hardship and division that currently exists within our communities are the Conservatives. No amount of immigrant-bashing can hide the real truth that Tory ideology continues to drive people in this country into total despair. Since 2010, the Tories have redistributed wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest. Whilst doing this, they have set out to destroy any rights that have been won by working people in order to ensure that power remains in the hands of the few, rather than the many. Contrary to what Theresa May might say in speeches, this will continue on her watch.”

The partisan
Arron Banks, the man who bankrolled the Brexit campaign to tune of £7.5m, says the only regret he had about the whole ‘chaotic’ campaign was commissioning polling into the effect of the killing of MP Jo Cox. He had previously defended the polling, but talking to Emma Barnett on BBC 5 Live, he admitted it was highly insensitive. “We had a big polling operation going at the time and we polled whether her death had an effect on voters’ perception of Leave or Remain, and obviously there was massive media coverage of that,” he said. When asked whether he regretted it going public, or regretted doing it, he said: “Both. Actually all it did was confirm what we already thought … But I think it was probably not the highlight of our campaign.”

Night comes on
It is hard not to feel sorry for Texas-based sports reporter Gina Miller who was flooded with online abuse after being mistaken for her namesake, the businesswoman who fronted the High Court action to force the government to hold a Brexit vote in Parliament. The American was initially bemused to be branded a traitor who had “ruined our democracy” and then received several hundred messages, including death threats: “It was absolutely vitriolic,” she said. Although aware of the mix-up, the “crazy” Brexit backlash took her by surprise. “On Twitter, on Facebook – there were some f-bombs, lots of people saying I was a traitor. ‘You’re ruining our democracy’, ‘F-off and move to France’ – and much more,” she continued. “I even had an email. In the subject box it said: ‘I hope you die, I sincerely hope you get cancer and die’.” Having visited the UK several times, Ms Miller said: “It was in overwhelming contrast to the very proper, polite British behaviour I’d seen before.” That was then, it seems. The hate trolling that the UK Ms Miller has endured, no doubt encouraged by the Daily Mail’s coverage, included threats of gang rape and beheading.

Born in chains
The general union Unite and its Community membership section have used the power of theatre to stimulate the debate about austerity Britain. Writing on the Stronger Unions blog, John Earls, head of research at Unite, explained that the union is keen to explore different ways in which it can reach beyond its traditional bases and extend the union message to new constituencies in new ways. Unite hosted the initiative at its London and Eastern office to highlight the voices of communities to explore the pressing social issues facing the country and the potential for change. The Great Austerity Debate is set around a new play, A life in the Week of Megan K , a collaboration between the Menagerie Theatre Company and two academics from Cambridge University – Mia Gray and Susan Smith. It centres around Megan Knowles, a single mother of two, as she tries to cope with working on a zero-hours contract, a deficient social security system and financial hardship.

Uber beaten
Trade unions are using the courts to take on employers in the gig economy over the bogus self-employment of the workforce. The GMB general union brought a tribunal case against ride-hailing app firm Uber on behalf of two drivers. And the London Employment Tribunal has determined that Uber has acted unlawfully by not providing drivers with basic workers’ rights. The tribunal decided that Uber drivers are entitled to receive holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks. The decision will have major implications for over 30,000 drivers in London and across England and Wales and for workers in other occupations. The GMB found last year that a member working exclusively for Uber received just £5.03 an hour after costs and fees were taken into account, significantly below the National Living Wage of £7.20. Lawyers for the drivers also argued that Uber acted unlawfully by frequently deducting sums from drivers’ pay, often without informing the drivers in advance, including when customers make complaints. Maria Ludkin, legal director at the GMB, said: “Uber drivers and thousands of others caught in the bogus self-employment trap will now enjoy the same rights as employees.” It will come as no surprise that Uber is to appeal the ground-breaking decision.

Deliveroo under attack
Meanwhile, in a different line of attack on gig economy companies, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has written to Deliveroo’s chief executive asking the firm to recognise it as a union representing riders in one area of London. Currently, the riders are classed as self-employed contractors, and are not entitled to the rights available to workers, including sick pay and the National Living Wage. The firm’s contract even tells those who sign up to make deliveries that they cannot test this status at the employment tribunal — although lawyers have dismissed this as unenforceable. The request for collective bargaining, which will cover only those working in Camden, north London, is designed to force the company to acknowledge the riders as workers. Independent contractors are not able to request collective bargaining in this way. The letter, from IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee to Deliveroo’s founder and chief executive Will Shu, calls for the company to recognise drivers working in Camden, north London. The letter gives the company 10 days to respond, and says that if the request is refused or unanswered the union will go to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC). It adds: “Of course, for the CAC to entertain our request they will need to decide that Deliveroo drivers are ‘workers’ and not the ‘independent contractors’ you have bog0usly deemed them to be.”

About John Street

John Street is Tribune's diary columnist.