John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: February 24, 2018 Last modified: February 24, 2018

The only UKIP county councillor in Britain has described the party as a “sinking ship”. Alan Hosker, who sits on Lancashire County Council, spoke out after ousted leader Henry Bolton announced he was leaving the party after his partner Jo Marney sent racist messages about Meghan Markle. Hosker insisted he would not abandon the party, saying: “The good times will come back, hopefully”. The Padiham and Burnley West councillor told BBC Radio Lancashire: “I’m staying loyal to UKIP because I believe in UKIP. We fought for the Brexit, we got the Brexit. I’m not going to desert a sinking ship.” Well said, that fantasist.

Royal Bank of Scotland has returned to profit for the first time in a decade. The bank, which is majority-owned by the taxpayer, made an annual profit of £752 million compared with a £6.95 billion loss the year before. However, RBS still faces a potentially massive fine from the US Department of Justice over the sale of financial products linked to risky mortgages.

The Treasury has played down expectations of Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Spring statement scheduled for March 13. The statement will have “no red box, no official document, no spending increases, no tax changes” and will last 15-20 minutes, a spokesman said. Hammond has decided to end the system of there being a Budget and a financial statement which was effectively a “mini Budget” each year. Unlike most previous statements, it will be delivered on a Tuesday rather than taking the high-profile slot straight after Prime Minister’s Questions on a Wednesday. Yet more evidence of a government that has little to say about the domestic agenda, and nothing to deliver.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, responding to allegations that Jeremy Corbyn had links to a Czech spy, said: “This journalism is not worth the paper it’s printed on. The only thing these articles reveal is just how concerned some tax dodging media barons are about a Labour government. In an era when the traditional press is fighting for survival newspapers should be upping their journalistic standards not falling onto the wrong side of the fake news divide. These irresponsible scurrilous stories do a disservice to the titles they are printed in and undermine the British newspaper industry during a very febrile time. For newspapers to have a brighter future than they look to now, proprietors must focus on ensuring their publication’s long-term health and reputation, rather than on cheap political attacks.”

A quarter of property in England and Wales owned by overseas firms is held by entities registered in the British Virgin Islands. The Caribbean archipelago is the official home of companies that own 23,000 properties – more than any other country. They are owned by 11,700 firms registered in the overseas territory. The finding emerged from BBC analysis conducted of Land Registry data on overseas property ownership. The research found there are around 97,000 properties in England and Wales held by overseas firms, as of January 2018.

Those campaigning for a better wage deal have been joined by Connor Short, youth co-ordinator of Toryworkers, the Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists. He blogged: “Approximately two million people are helped by the minimum wage, but more should be entitled to it. Currently, many workers are forced to work on a self-employed basis by their agency. There is nothing in the way of allowing these agencies to employ their workers, rather than hire. However, they prefer using the self-employed worker model, since there is greater flexibility for them in relation to workers’ rights, including the minimum wage. But these rights should never be flexible at workers’ expense.” He has personal experience – once being offered a 12-hour contract for £60 to appear as an extra in a film, or £5 per hour. Even workers over the age of 25 were offered the same deal. “I called up my agency to ask them to renegotiate the contract,” he recalled. “What followed was escalating tensions and a fairly large boycott of the same offer by the rest of the extras. Most people turned down the offer on being offered it. out of honour and respect for the need for workers’ rights. Ever since, every contract offered for this work has been over the minimum wage.”

The latest YouGov poll has top-line figures of CON 43 per cent (+1), LAB 39 per cent (-3), LDEM 8 per cent (+2). Anthony Wells of ukpollingreport blogged: “The big risk when watching opinion polls is to pay too much attention to exciting looking outliers and not enough to run-of-the-mill polls showing not much has changed. Polls have a margin of error, and normal sample variation spits out unusual results sometimes even when public opinion is actually unchanged. Before one gets too excited about an unusual or interesting looking poll one should wait to see if it is replicated in other polls or is just a blip. Sure, this could be the start of the Tories opening up a lead, but it could just be random noise. Given the government’s current travails, I think it’s more likely to be noise, but we shall see. As ever, the thing to watch is the trend across the polls as a whole. So far 2018 has produced two polls showing small Tory leads, three polls showing the parties equal, five polls showing small Labour leads, suggesting that the actual picture is that the Conservatives and Labour have very similar levels of support. That itself is interesting – the Conservative government often seem paralysed by infighting and are doing very little except for Brexit (which most people think they are doing badly). Yet they remain equal with the opposition when past governments stuck in similar mires – such as those of Gordon Brown or John Major – trailed badly. I can see a couple of possible explanations – it could just be that the public aren’t paying attention, there is so little happening in politics and they are so turned off that they aren’t noticing this stuff. Alternatively, it could be that people are just lined up along EU divisions – for now, the Conservatives are the party that’s delivering Brexit, so those who want Britain to leave are sticking with the Tories. A third possibility is that Labour have reached a ceiling in their support – Jeremy Corbyn may be very popular among Labour supporters, but he is anathema to others and the alternative of Corbyn’s Labour is propping up Conservative support that might otherwise be faltering. Naturally, these are not mutually exclusive.”

You really couldn’t make it up – the Government minister in charge of persuading more couples to share their parental leave is not allowed to take up the scheme. Business minister Andrew Griffiths, who is due to become a dad in April, said that as an “office holder rather than an employee” he was ineligible.

About John Street

John Street is Tribune's diary columnist.