Ed Miliband denies photo manipulation

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Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, has denied allegations that a photo was manipulated or that he stood on a box in a photo with Toby Perkins, the Labour MP for Chesterfield. The story was first posted by the Guido Fawkes blog and followed a statement by Ed Miliband last year that:

“If you want a politician  who thinks that a good photo is the most important thing, then don’t vote for me”.

The original story can be found at the Guido Fawkes blog.

Kris Hopkins confirms Greenwich Council ordered to stop weekly publication of its own magazine

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Kris Hopkins, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has confirmed that Greenwich Council will be forced to stop publishing its weekly publication ‘Greenwich Time’.

Hopkins said that there was a threat to local media and that agreement hadn’t been reached with the council. He added:

“Within the period of 14 days following the notice, as statute provides, Greenwich council has made a number of representations. These included that in the council’s view there is no evidence that its weekly newspaper has an impact on the local independent press in the area, that the proposed direction would be ultra vires, irrational, and procedurally unfair, and that in any event the council would not be able to comply with such a direction by the proposed date of 31 March 2015.”

The department for Communities and Local Government confirmed that the direction meant “not only must the council cease to publish its weekly newspaper, ‘Greenwich Time’, but it is also barred from outsourcing or contracting for the publication of any weekly newsletter, news-sheet or similar communication by a third party to whom the council may make payment.”

The publication of Greenwich Time meant that some local media outlets said that they were facing unfair competition for advertising. The council also admitted that the Greenwich Time was being signed off by the leader of the council which some opponents said questioned the impartiality of the publication.

The council has said that it will comply with its legal duties.

David Cameron condemns killing of Boris Nemtsov

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David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has condemned the assassination in Moscow of Boris Nemtsov who was a former Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. Nemtsov was killed on a public road and was known as a critic of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President.

David Cameron said in a statement:

“I am shocked and sickened by the callous murder of Boris Nemtsov as he walked in the heart of Moscow last night. This despicable act must be fully, rapidly and transparently investigated, and those responsible brought to justice.

Boris Nemtsov was a man of courage and conviction. His life was dedicated to speaking up tirelessly for the Russian people, to demanding their right to democracy and liberty under the rule of law, and to an end to corruption. He did so without fear, and never gave in to intimidation. He was greatly admired in Britain, not least by his friend Lady Thatcher, who visited him in Russia and who would have been appalled by today’s news. The courage of Nemtsov’s life contrasts with the utter cowardice of his murder.

I extend my condolences to Boris Nemtsov’s family and friends. The Russian people have been deprived of a champion of their rights. Boris Nemtsov is dead. But the values he stood for will never die.”

Nemtsov had given a radio interview just hours before his death which some are saying is linked to the leadership of the increasing controversial Vladimir Putin.

Foreign Secretary says that Assad cannot be the future of Syria

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In a statement issued jointly by Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, and Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, the British and French Governments have said Bashar al-Assad does not represent the future in Syria.

“From the palace where he is hunkered down, Bashar al-Assad is not just waging a war against his own people; he is also fighting to improve his public image.

In the Western media, he is using the terror created by the extremists to present himself as a partner for us against chaos. Some appear to be swayed by this argument, saying that in the face of extremism, Assad’s injustice and dictatorship is preferable to disorder.

In reality, Assad is himself stoking injustice, disorder and extremism, and France and UK are standing firm together against all three.

This is why we should be deeply sceptical about Assad’s apparent agreement to stop shelling a civilian area of Aleppo for six weeks, brokered by the UN Envoy Staffan De Mistura. We welcome the dedication and effort of Mr De Mistura, and we all want to see a sustainable and genuine reduction in violence. But Assad’s past actions mean we cannot take his words at face value.

Assad has conducted the civil war in barbaric fashion. There is a list of war crimes and crimes against humanity, supposedly in the name of the fight against terrorism, but committed as part of a systematic regime policy.

We should not forget the use of chemical weapons, the indiscriminate use of violence against Syrian civilians, and the horrific images of torture and murder in Assad’s jails revealed to the world by the regime defector known as Caesar.

The reality is that Assad is considerably weaker than a year ago, and growing weaker still. His army is depleted, with increasing desertions by its own soldiers, and forced to recruit mercenaries from as far away as Asia. He is beholden to his regional sponsors who, like Hezbollah, are the power behind the throne in Syria.

Assad no longer controls his own country, having lost territory in the North, where the moderate opposition groups are fighting bravely. In the East, he is offering no resistance to ISIL. In the West, Al-Qaeda affiliates have set up. Assad’s own borders are infiltrated on all sides.

Proposing Assad as a solution to the extremists is to misunderstand the causes of the extremism. After 220,000 deaths and millions of displaced persons, we would be foolish to assume that a majority of Syrians would willingly agree to live under the control of their tormentor. And for us to dash their hopes of a better future for Syria without Assad would only serve to make many Syrians even more radicalised, pushing moderate people towards extremism rather than the reverse, and consolidating a jihadi stronghold in Syria.

For our own national security we have to defeat ISIL in Syria. We need a partner in Syria to work with against the extremists, and this means a political settlement agreed between the Syrian parties leading to a unity government in Syria. This will likely include parts of the existing regime structures, the National Coalition, and others with a moderate and inclusive vision for Syria, respecting Syria’s different communities. It is clear to us that Assad could not credibly be part of any such administration.

This transition would allow the Syrian people to regain hope for the future, and for us to tackle the root causes of ISIL. This is where we are focussing our political efforts. It is not an easy task, and we must all play our part in our own way. But France and the United Kingdom will spare no effort to achieve this goal.”

Denise Fowler appointed the new Housing Ombudsman

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has confirmed the appointment of Denise Fowler as the new Housing Ombudsman.

Fowler, who was previously the Deputy Legal Director at the Head of Planning Law Reform within the same department, said that:

“I am delighted to have been appointed as the new Housing Ombudsman. Effective local complaint resolution builds trust and improves landlord and tenant relationships. Obviously there are times when such consensus is not possible and we then have a responsibility to investigate complaints impartially as swiftly and efficiently as possible. I hope that I can help the organisation to continue to develop its already excellent service.”

Further information about the services offered by the office of the Ombudsman can be found at http://www.housing-ombudsman.org.uk/.

 

Labour pledge to cut tuition fees to £6,000

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Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, has pledged to cut tuition fees to £6,000 a year from the current cost of £9,000. The move, which would be introduced in 2016, would help reduce the debt faced by graduates once leaving university.

A Labour Party spokesman said:

“At the moment, people with incomes over £150,000 get tax relief on pension contributions at a rate of 45 per cent – more than twice that of basic rate taxpayers. This means that although they are only the top 1 per cent of taxpayers, they receive 7 per cent of all Pension Tax Relief. So we will make the system fairer by restricting Pension Tax Relief by £2.9 billion for those on the highest incomes.”

Vince Cable, the Business and Skills Secretary, criticised the move saying that:

“This tax on pensioners will not go to universities, it will go to the Treasury. And we know from past experience the Treasury will pocket the money and it will be used to reduce the deficit.”

Tuition fees were introduced by the Labour Government in 1998 requiring students to pay up to £1,000 a year by way of a loan which would only been repaid once they reached a certain income threshold. The fees were increased again by Labour in 2004 and then again under the coalition in 2010.

Possible Conservative Candidates for Kensington seat

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Following the announcement by Malcolm Rifkind, pictured above, that he was standing down as the MP for Kensington at the General Election there has been debate on who might succeed him.

Ladbrokes have published their odds for the next Conservative candidate which include:

10/1 – James Cracknell

10/1 – Syed Kamall

16/1 – Andrew Strauss

20/1 – Ruth Davidson

20/1 – Tim Montgomerie

33/1 – Iain Dale

33/1 – Sol Campbell

50/1 – Frank Lampard

Other names suggested include Dan Snow, Michael Portillo and Jeremy Paxman who haven’t declared themselves as not standing although another suggested candidate, Kirstie Allsopp, has said that she doesn’t intend to stand.

It is thought that a high-profile candidate is likely to stand in the constituency and sources close to Downing Street have said that David Cameron, the Prime Minister, is likely to be consulted over the choice. The final candidate will though be chosen by the members of Kensington Conservative Association.

 

Church of England criticised for failing to pay wages it demanded from others

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The Church of England has been criticised by a number of MPs and businesses after it was revealed that they have been failing to pay the living wage despite telling other businesses to do so. The church had paying the living wage was necessary to allow employees to “live decently” but admitted paying lower wages itself.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that the situation was “embarrassing” whilst Charlie Elphicke told the Sun newspaper that:

“It’s astonishing that the Church of England can call for the living wage to be paid by employers but don’t pay it themselves.”

One of the jobs paying beneath the minimum wage was at Canterbury Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which offered £6.70 per hour for a kiosk assistant. The national living wage for areas outside of London is £7.85 and £9.15 inside London.

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, had said that:

“Our call for a Living Wage recognises that we need to value each and every person and that people should be paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work.”

The church said that it wasn’t in a position to pay the living wage to all employees but didn’t comment on how that related to the comments made by John Sentamu which suggested that all employers should be paid a fair wage.

 

Sir Malcolm Rifkind suspended from the Conservative Party

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Picture credit : https://www.flickr.com/people/66261959@N08

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary, has been suspended from the Conservative Party following his meeting with Michael Gove, the Conservative Party Chief Whip.

The suspension announcement follows an investigation into politicians offering their services for cash. The sting was conducted by Channel Four and it found two former Foreign Secretaries who were prepared to accept money, the other was Jack Straw. Straw, unlike Rifkind, immediately resigned the party whip whilst investigations continue with both politicians denying the charges.

Rifkind claimed that he was self-employed and wasn’t paid by anyone although he is still an MP and claims the full salary. Defending his business activities on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme he said:

“If you are trying to attract people of a business or a professional background to serve in the House of Commons, and if they are not ministers, it is quite unrealistic to believe they will go through their parliamentary career being able to simply accept a salary of £60,000. That sounds a lot to a lot of people earning less than that but the vast majority of people from a business or professional background earn far, far more than that. If they are told they have to choose one or the other they just won’t come to the House of Commons at all and Parliament will lose their skills.”

 

Gandhi Statue to be unveiled in London

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A statue to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi is to be unveiled in London on 14 March 2015. The statue is located at Parliament Square opposite the Houses of Parliament and was funded by over £1 million of donations.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said:

“Mahatma Gandhi is an inspiration. His approach of non-violence will resonate forever as a positive legacy – not just for the UK and India, but the world over. He was a man of great insight and many of his observations remain as fresh and relevant today as when he first made them – that we should be the change we wish to see in the world is timeless advice, well worth following. The statue in Parliament Square not only marks his huge importance in the history of both our countries, but will enrich the firm bond of friendship between the world’s oldest democracy and its largest.

Our ties with India have remained close throughout history and continue to go from strength to strength – through mutual respect as equals, through cooperation, trade, and of course through the one-and-a-half million Indian diaspora living in Britain today who bring our two nations closer, to the benefit of both.”

Further information about the fund raising is available at https://www.gandhistatue.org/ .