Government ministers pay frozen for one year

Government ministers will have their salaries frozen for this year, No 10 has confirmed.

Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the decision was “only right” at a time of significant pressure on public services.

It comes as the independent body responsible for setting MP’s salaries proposed a £3,000 raise for members.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said on Monday that the money “should be spent on key workers”.

Downing Street said MPs pay was a matter for the relevant body – the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

An MP’s current basic salary is £79,468.

They also receive expenses to cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, having somewhere to live in London or their constituency, and travelling between Parliament and their constituency.

IPSA’s proposals would see the increase in MPs’ salaries continue to be linked to the average rise for public sector workers.

MPs who have jobs as ministers get paid additional salaries – including the prime minister, who is entitled to an extra £79,286 this financial year.

The decision from Downing Street means the pay for a secretary of state in the Commons will be £4,168 less than they are statutorily entitled to.

No 10 said the move also meant ministerial salaries had remained frozen since 2010 and Lords ministerial salaries will stay at 2019/20 levels.

The PM’s spokesman added: “The government is only responsible for ministerial salaries.”

Labour: Historic divisions over patriotism pose challenge for Starmer

Early in his tenure as new Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer said he wanted the party to be “proud of being patriotic”.

Now, in his first speech to the party’s conference as the party’s head, he will say to voters: “I ask you: take another look at Labour. We’re under new leadership. We love this country as you do.”

It seems to be a stance that chimes with many Labour members.

According to a YouGov poll in January, as the leadership contest began, 50% of the party thought it was important for the new chief to have a sense of patriotism.

It resonates among the public too: in a survey, 67% of respondents told YouGov in June they were proud of being British.

But the party has a complex relationship with the concept of patriotism and Sir Keir will face challenges in getting it right.

Labour historian and author of Old Labour to New, Greg Rosen, says the party tradition is rooted in patriotism, but tensions came with the approach of World War One.

Former Liberal Party members joined Labour, upset by the Liberal stance on foreign policy – and the split between those for and against the war encompassed not just the House of Commons, but the Labour Party as well.

Shami Chakrabarti, the former shadow attorney general under Jeremy Corbyn, says she was surprised by the divisions as she learnt the history of the party.

She points to a story in a new book by Rachel Holmes, Sylvia Pankhurst – Natural Born Rebel, featuring an incident with Keir Hardie – a founder of the party. Keir Hardie was against World War One and spoke out about it in the Commons.

But some Labour backbenchers defied him by quietly singing the national anthem “like a cold, cold wind” from behind, in a stunt to discredit him as anti-patriotic.

“I was shocked, not just that Labour MPs could be so wrong about that tragic imperialist war, but that they were so nasty to their first leader who brought them into being,” says Baroness Chakrabarti.

Keir Hardie wasn’t alone in his opposition to that war – Mr Rosen points to the resignation of Ramsay MacDonald, who quit as Labour leader in 1914, after saying he believed Britain should have remained neutral.

Yet, at the same time, other leading Labour figures made it onto the frontbench of the coalition government to lead the war effort.

This divide on foreign policy – with only those supportive of the war deemed “patriots” – continued.

Mr Rosen said there were “immense tensions” in the 1930s and 1940s within Labour over the rise of fascism and Hitler.

“It saw some figures far firmer in their determination to stand up to fascism than the Conservative Party, while others were quitting over their beliefs in pacifism,” he says.

The former shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, says this was a time Labour could point to, when it showed its patriotic background.

“There have been points of tension, but if you think back to the moment of greatest peril in the last 100 years – 1939, when our national identity and national security were the most challenged – that was the moment the Labour Party joined with Churchill in a war time cabinet,” he says.

“British patriotism and unity at that time of greatest need was underpinned by Labour but that was consistent with the party pushing for change.”

In 1945, despite Churchill’s leadership through the war, it was Labour and Clement Attlee that won the post-war election.

“Part of the reason Labour won in 1945 was because it was seen as the party that was both patriotic but also had vision for a better Britain – not just proud but willing to act – to defend and change the country,” says Mr Balls.

But Attlee, who is celebrated as the great reformer and founder of the NHS, was also responsible for securing the UK’s nuclear deterrent – another topic which divides Labour opinion.

John Denham – a cabinet minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – said Labour’s approach began to change after the “explicitly patriotic” governments of the post-war era.

“From the early 1980s, that question of defence policy was again closely associated with patriotism,” he said.

“The party made a pledge in its manifesto for unilateral nuclear disarmament. But the merits of this went up against the patriotic representation of Margaret Thatcher’s policies around the Falklands War.

“It put Labour on the back foot for voters who looked for strong military presence from their leaders.”

Mr Balls points out: “Every Conservative conference had flown the Union Jack and used as many patriotic symbols as possible, as well as being strong on law and order, and defence.

“Labour hadn’t matched that.”

But, he says, there was an issue on the left over whether to even try.

Ed Balls says there was a tension between “people who wanted to start international engagement from a place of patriotism, like David Owen, and those like Roy Jenkins, who I think saw internationalism as an alternative to patriotism”.

Mr Denham, who also co-founded of the English Labour Network, says it was “crucial” to Tony Blair’s election win in 1997 that accusations of the party not being patriotic were “neutralised”.

And Ed Balls – who won his seat as an MP in 2005 – saw some new and surprising moves by Labour.

He says: “I remember very well in the run up to 1997 election, Peter Mandelson brought a bulldog to a press conference in a Union Jack waistcoat.

“It was part of New Labour signalling that this was now a party that was very proud of Britishness and would do the things that were necessary to protect out national security.”

As well as embracing a more overt patriotism in this era, New Labour ushered in another change – this time, in the party’s membership.

“Historically, the membership was filled with trade unions and their even bigger base in the manual, industrial working classes,” says Mr Denham. “There was a built-in socially democratic, patriotic structure here.

“But the membership became more middle-class, with more graduates and more city-based people. That means it is drawn from that section of society that, in general, is less likely to think about the issue of patriotism.”

This cohort has continued to expand among Labour members in the years after Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

And in the latest chapter of Labour’s history, it has been coupled with growing numbers on the very left of the party.

The party’s contortions were epitomised by the incident where Emily Thornberry resigned from Labour’s front bench in 2014, after sending a tweet during a by-election which was branded “snobby”.

She apologised for the tweet, which showed a terraced house with three England flags, and a white van parked outside.

Jeremy Corbyn was a well-established backbench rebel who showed off his left wing stripes when he took over as leader in 2015.

He would speak on the record about his love for the country and support for the Armed Forces but his well-known views on the monarchy, military action and incidents such as criticism from Labour MPs that he opted to remain silent rather than sing the national anthem at a service to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, left a question mark over him for some voters who were looking for a patriot in their next prime minister.

Former Labour MP Jenny Chapman – who lost her seat in the 2019 election and chaired Sir Keir’s campaign to become leader – says: “He cleared the pitch. He walked away from the flag, he didn’t stand up for the national anthem, he didn’t dress appropriately for an important remembrance event.

“People care about these things and it is about respect – respect for them and respect for the country. It may sound very superficial, but it means an awful lot to people, and that is where Jeremy lost permission to have any nuance on this.”

Ms Chapman says patriotism was a “real issue” on the doorstep in the 2019 election – which saw her lose her seat as an MP in Darlington.

“They would be very blunt about it,” she says. “They would call Jeremy a communist or a terrorist and it isn’t fair. I have never been a Jeremy fan, but he isn’t those things.

“And they would say he didn’t love this country. I am not saying it was true or fair, but that was the perception and it is one we need to correct.”

Other issues were, of course, at play, but few dispute that the perception of Mr Corbyn – true or not – damaged the party’s performance in those more traditional, working class constituencies, especially in the north of England and the Midlands – the so-called “Red Wall” seats.

In April, Sir Keir won the Labour leadership contest outright.

For Baroness Chakrabarti, Sir Keir’s task is to redefine what patriotism means.

“I personally have no problem calling myself a patriot,” she said. “I am a universalist, an internationalist, a human rights activist, but I also understand that people are rooted in place, language, culture and stories.”

She is happy to list things that make her feel patriotic, including the English language, the rule of law, and the Commonwealth, but says: “Rather than reducing patriotism to flags and uniforms, we should change the narrative.”

Baroness Chakrabarti wants Labour to focus its patriotism on sources of pride – rather than taking on the more traditional, flag-waving patriotism of the right – such as Britain’s “greatest national treasure”, the NHS.

“Contemporary patriotism should be about loyalty to care and health workers in blue, sent into modern day mines, mills and trenches without adequate testing or protection,” she says.

“We should be patriotic about the NHS, not looking for more wars or trying to compete with the right wing populism of Johnson and Trump.”

Ed Balls believes bringing together an internationalist view with the country’s national interest is the right balance – and one which has proven fruitful in the past for Labour.

“The 1945 government was a reforming one, but it did so with strong patriotic language about the kind of Britain we wanted to build,” he says.

“Labour must use the 1945 election as exemplar of patriotic reform because, if you are not a reformer, why are you in Labour, and if you are not a patriot, you don’t take the country with you.

“Those red wall seats, areas I used to represent, want change and are deeply patriotic places that are very proud of that Britishness. Standing up for that combination of change and national pride is vital if Labour is to succeed.”

So what is the feeling in Sir Keir’s camp?

Jenny Chapman says they have accepted that some voters “sense we see the world in a different way and that we are embarrassed, uncomfortable or feel guilty about being British”.

“I have never felt like that, Keir doesn’t feel like that and many Labour MPs don’t either,” she adds. “But it is the reality of what people think and we can’t just ignore it.”

But how do you appeal to voters who want to celebrate their Britishness without losing the membership less comfortable with the notion?

“You highlight that they have more in common,” she says.

“There are things very important to both groups of people – the nature of work, the quality of public services, economic credibility – and Labour needs to make those the most important questions.”

Dozens of migrants cross English Channel in 12 boats

Up to 170 migrants in 12 boats have crossed the English Channel after days of choppy sea conditions improved.

A further 222 people were stopped from making the “perilous” journey by French authorities, the Home Office said.

The authorities later confirmed the body of a man in a lifejacket, found on a beach near Calais at 08:00 BST, was that of a migrant.

Six migrants on two kayaks tied together were also rescued by the French navy off the coast of Calais.

The man, who was found dead on the beach at Sangatte, had almost certainly been trying to cross the Channel, said Pascal Marconville, the prosecutor of nearby town Boulogne-sur-Mer.

The number of people reaching the UK by boat had fallen in October amid harsher conditions in the Channel.

Mr Marconville said initial examinations of the man’s body indicated there was no third party involvement in his death.

There was also no suggestion he had been in the water for any length of time – washing up just a few hours after attempting to make the crossing.

Officers investigating his death would work with the migrant communities based in Calais and Dunkirk to try to establish his identity and the circumstances around his death, he added.

About 260 people have successfully made the crossing this month, compared to a record 1,951 in September.

Home Office minister Chris Philp said the government was “taking action at every step of these illegally-facilitated journeys to make this route unviable”.

The National Crime Agency this week arrested 12 people alleged to be responsible for smuggling migrants into the UK, he said.

A 30-year-old man was arrested in Hastings on Friday on suspicion of sourcing boats in the UK and transporting them to France, where they were allegedly used to cross the Channel.

Meanwhile, about 250 people gathered in Folkestone, Kent, to show support for asylum-seekers being housed inside a former army barracks.

It followed claims that far-right activists were using the arrival of asylum-seekers at the Napier barracks to “fuel hate”.

“There’s a narrative that has been put forward by a group of people saying that these fellow human beings aren’t wanted in Folkestone and we know that isn’t the case,” said Bridget Chapman, of charity Kent Refugee Action Network.

And Clare Moseley, co-founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, said they were only risking crossing the Channel “because they are frightened, fleeing appalling horrors in some of the most dangerous places on earth”.

“They [also] do it because of the grim and unsanitary conditions in Calais, where they are constantly harassed and abused by the authorities,” she continued.

“They do it because there is no safe and legal way to have their UK asylum claim heard.”

Kent Police thanked “the vast majority of the attendees” at the Folkestone protest at what it described as a “peaceful event”.

One man was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage following a confrontation with a small counter demonstration.

Climate: The week Boris Johnson turned green, or did he?

You could be forgiven for thinking this was the week Boris Johnson really grasped the perilous state of the planet.

After a long silence on environmental issues, he made not one but three “green” speeches to the UN biodiversity summit in New York.

At first sight, his promises looked ambitious: take the headline on a Downing Street press release which read “PM commits to protect 30% of UK land in boost for biodiversity”.

Nearly a third of UK land protected for nature… that’s impressive, right? Well, not according to some.

Environmentalists called the press release a masterpiece of spin: it gave the impression that 30% of land would be protected for biological diversity.

But, as campaigners pointed out, the UK’s proposed protected area would mainly refer to land protected for beauty, not wildlife.

The “30 by 30” target was initially proposed by international green groups in 2018, and clearly referred to nature protection, not landscape value.

But much of the area to be included in the UK’s proud 30% target are principally managed for walkers, tourists and sheep, not rare plants and insects.

In fact, some protected uplands are actually relatively poor in biodiversity, following decades of overgrazing.

This means the government’s only firm promise this week – after three prime ministerial speeches – is to safeguard just 4% more of the UK’s land for nature.

That’s hardly an urgent response to what the PM calls a crisis.

Well, it pulsed with colour. He warned: “Consider the pangolin – that scaly mammalian miracle of evolution boasting a prehensile tongue that is somehow attached to its pelvis.

“I don’t believe any of us would choose to bequeath a planet on which such a wonderfully bizarre little creature is as unfamiliar to future generations as dinosaurs and dodos are to us today.”

But his scaly tribute bore no further new policies.

The previous week, on the subject of climate change, the PM flamboyantly predicted that the UK could be the “Saudi Arabia” of wind power.

He declared himself an “evangelist” for the extremely expensive technology of CCS – carbon capture and storage, which buries CO2 in underground rocks.

He heralded a revolution for hydrogen fuel and said the UK would get more nuclear power. He also said Britain would phase out sales of new petrol cars earlier than planned.

But he didn’t say when, and didn’t give any details of other policies in his in-tray, or how they would be funded.

As the UK prepares to host next year’s world climate summit, the PM’s critics say he must urgently underpin his words with cash and timetables for delivery.

Former Tory minister Sir Nicholas Soames wrote in the Times that, despite recent rhetoric, the UK is falling behind on carbon-cutting generally and on the high-level diplomacy needed to unite international partners.

He said: “The government must wake up to the challenge in front of it and realise that the diplomatic landscape is the toughest it has been.”

To be fair, the government is making pioneering moves in some areas of green policy.

It’s committing to break the link between deforestation and UK supply chains. And it’s helped lead the Global Ocean Alliance, which aims to protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

The UK’s Blue Belt programme is a little-publicised but major initiative on track to protect marine areas the size of India.

But real firm action is proving more elusive than words. Greenpeace was so incensed by what it called a lack of enforcement of marine zones that it dropped boulders in the North Sea to obstruct fishing.

On farming, the government also has – in theory – a good news story to tell.

It’s attracted admirers with its scheme to swap the widely-reviled EU farm policy for a grant system based on wildlife protection rather than farm size.

But now it seems the need to keep farmers in business may prompt ministers to raid the planned nature protection budget.

Meanwhile, the government’s ambitious Environment Bill would enshrine biodiversity targets in law if only it wasn’t stuck in the Commons for a want of Parliamentary time.

The Guardian columnist George Monbiot offered a bleak assessment on the week’s pronouncements.

“It’s the hope I can’t stand,” he said. “Every few years, governments gather to make solemn promises about the action they will take to defend the living world, then break them before the ink is dry.

“Wherever Johnson has been, a trail of broken promises litters his path like roadkill.”

Tony Juniper, head of Natural England, prefers to focus on potential. He told me: “If you look at it in the round, the government has an awful lot of good policies in the pipeline. If they manage to deliver their programme it’ll be a huge achievement.”

He said work was already under way to improve biodiversity in areas protected mainly for landscape value. If that succeeds, he said, it would make the 30% protection figure more impressive.

Mr Juniper’s guarded optimism was echoed by Julian Glover, who conducted last year’s government-funded review into National Parks.

He told me: “This is a rare chance to get reform, funding and more for nature and people.

“Environmentalists are right to point out today’s big problems but I hope they will use this chance to get change and not just complain that because things for nature are often dire now there’s no chance of a government helping make them better.

“It’s good the PM wants to talk about the issue – let’s encourage him to back action.”

It’s rumoured that Mr Johnson was prompted to make the recent flurry of green announcements after being embarrassed by the reaction to his derogatory comments about rare newts in a speech on planning.

The big question now is what will nudge him to put finance and targets to the ideas in his green in tray?

Follow Roger on Twitter.

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