John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: December 3, 2016 Last modified: December 3, 2016

Watch that man

Regular Tribune columnist and shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs Cat Smith has been cleared of cheating on her election expenses. In May, an investigation was launched into the election expenses submitted by the Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood but Lancashire Police confirmed that “no offences have taken place”. Ms Smith said: “As I made clear at the time, I had nothing to fear from any investigation because I had done nothing wrong. I was always open, honest and transparent, offering the police access to all my paperwork relating to the 2015 General Election. I am pleased the police have concluded that there was no wrongdoing whatsoever and that the truth is now clear that I fought my election fairly and completely within the law.” And where did the claims originate? On blogger Guido Fawkes’s website. Guido’s real name is Paul Staines, an arch-Tory whose reputation is based on making bogus stains stick. A quick Google shows that in the early 1990s he did public relations for acid house parties, was a financial broker and trader and sued his fund’s financial backer in a commercial dispute.  Staines declared himself bankrupt in October 2003 after two years of litigation, and legal costs on both sides running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. At the Leveson Inquiry, Staines revealed he had been paid £20,000 by the News of the World for a picture of William Hague’s special adviser, Christopher Myers, in a gay bar. No wonder the Daily Telegraph hails him as one of the UK’s top political bloggers. And why Tribune dubs him the Donald Trump of the blogosphere.

Where are we now?

It may have been Philip Hammond’s first Autumn Statement, but it will also be his last. The chancellor told the Commons: “I am abolishing the Autumn Statement. No other major economy makes hundreds of tax changes twice a year, and neither should we. So the spring Budget in a few months will be the final spring Budget.” Starting in autumn 2017, there will an autumn Budget, announcing tax changes well in advance of the start of the tax year. And from 2018 there will be a Spring Statement, responding to the forecast from the OBR. but no major fiscal event. “If unexpected changes in the economy require it, then I will, of course, announce actions at the Spring Statement, but I won’t make significant changes twice a year just for the sake of it,” he said. Hope that’s clear.

Heroes

A touching tribute was made by Peter Dowd, Labour MP for Bootle, as he wound up a debate on hate crimes against the disabled: “I was brought up by a woman, a single parent, a war widow, a Christian, of Irish descent, who in her later years was disabled by partial sightedness. Each of those characteristics, in different situations, in different circumstances, in a different age, could have led to her being the victim of intolerance or hatred, and I think that sometimes she was, so she taught me that toleration was not a gift that was given to someone, but a duty that was owed to them, whoever they were – even to me when I was egregiously problematic to her. Her patience was boundless in that regard, and she was incredibly tolerant.”

Future legend

Was the Man from UNCLE a fellow traveller? FBI chief J Edgar Hoover certainly thought so, citing the fact that in the 1960s TV spy spoof, his fictional sidekick Iliya Kuryakin (played by Scottish actor David McCallum) was a sympathetic Soviet-era Russian. However, the obituaries last month (Nov) of Robert Vaughan, who played Napoleon Solo, played down the genuinely radical and left-wing credentials of the series star. Vaughan visited the Soviet Union to play Hamlet, marched with Martin Luther King, and was briefly seen as the best candidate to stand against fellow actor Ronald Reagan for the governorship of California. He founded Dissenting Democrats against the Vietnam War after visiting a hospital packed with soldiers – average age 19 – who had lost limbs. He recalled: “Although I was intellectually opposed to the war, this changed me. I became emotionally opposed to the war.” In 2013, as he turned 80, he was asked how he would most like to be remembered. Was it playing the broken-down gunfighter in The Magnificent Seven, or the crooked politician in Bullitt, or the veteran con man in the recent hit series Hustle? No, he replied, it was “my opposition to the Vietnam War.”

Everything’s alright

J Meirion Thomas, until recently an NHS Professor of Surgery and Consultant Surgeon in the NHS, blogged: “Having trained as a surgeon at St George’s Hospital, I was sad to learn that this once proud hospital is in special measures after being rated inadequate by the Care Quality Commission. Its medical school is one of the largest in the UK, and the hospital serves a large, relatively deprived population in South London. Among the gloom, maternity services were rated by the CQC as outstanding.” However, it emerged that it is a hub for maternity health tourism, with half of the 1783 overseas women who gave birth there in 2015-2016 later found not to be entitled to free NHS care. The hospital conceded that it had been targetted because it didn’t carry out robust eligibility checks. Thomas went on: “It is highly unlikely that this problem suddenly started in 2015: more likely, it has been endemic at St George’s for years, and has only recently been identified. Either way, the error amounts to gross managerial incompetence, which might explain why, all told, the hospital is now in special measures. The suspicion is that some maternity tourism is widespread and organised, much like a package holiday. Where are the NHS fraud officers?” Is this another example of money talking louder than anything else in the cash-strapped NHS?

Under pressure

The delivery firm CitySprint is the latest UK business to be involved in a legal dispute over the gig economy and whether it should treat its freelance couriers as workers. Mags Dewhurst, who has made deliveries for the firm for more than two years, will argue at a tribunal that she should be given worker status, and the rights that come with it, such as holiday pay and the National Minimum Wage. The case is the first of four against different courier firms that will be heard by the same judge. The other cases, against Addison Lee, eCourier and Excel, will be heard next year.Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which is backing the riders, said the cyclists worked for one company at a time and were obliged to take work they were given throughout the day. He said independent contractors were able to send others to do their work, but that was not possible for Dewhurst and the other riders. “Even though the courier firms say Mags can send a substitute, she can’t really, as there are restrictions that prevent that,” he said. CitySprint, which has 3,500 self-employed couriers in the UK, could face further claims if the tribunal finds against it. Last month, in a case backed by the GMB general union, the tribunal found in favour of drivers for the taxi-hailing firm Uber, who argued that they should be classed as workers. Uber has appealed against the ruling. Matt Gingell, an employment law partner at Gannons Solicitors, said: “The employment tribunal may well be influenced by the Uber decision. But that judgment is not binding and the facts will be different in these cases.”

About John Street

John Street is Tribune’s diary columnist.