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19 July 2023

Can Anas Sarwar stand up to Keir Starmer?

Labour’s refusal to scrap the two-child benefit cap is a test of the Scottish party’s independence.

By Chris Deerin

Keir Starmer’s refusal to consider abolishing the two-child benefit cap has quickly turned into a test of what kind of leader he really is. The decision has put him at odds with many in his party, and not just the usual suspects. Labour left-wingers such as John McDonnell and Zarah Sultana have spoken out against the decision, but so too have more centrist MPs such as Meg Hillier and Rosie Duffield. Starmer is determined to reaffirm Labour’s commitment to fiscal discipline. For now this includes not reversing the Tory policy under which families no longer receive additional means-tested support for their third or subsequent children, which can be worth up to £3,235 a year per child. The public, as is traditional, takes ...

19 July 2023

Why Britain’s institutions are dying

From the BBC to HS2, our public services are in managed decline.

By Adrian Pabst

The stench of institutional decay is engulfing the UK. From the Met police via BBC bosses to NHS management, public institutions have lost their way. What, one might ask, is their point if they preside over scandals and merely manage decline? This process of self-erosion is reminiscent of a passage in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises in which a character called Mike is asked how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” he answers. “Gradually, then suddenly.” At a time of de-globalisation and the need for national renewal, the British state lacks the basic capacity to provide essential public services and invest in key areas such as transport infrastructure or housing. Whether it’s stopping crime, preventing sewage from being dumped into our rivers ...

18 July 2023

Why by-election defeats would benefit Sunak

The PM’s Conservative rivals won’t want to lead a doomed party.

By John Oxley

This Thursday, 20 July, Rishi Sunak faces his biggest electoral test since becoming Prime Minister. The three by-elections he is defending represent a broad electoral temperature check and will give an insight into just how doomed the Tory majority is. Normally, a poor showing would hurt a PM – but in this instance, the worse Sunak does the more he may have a strange security in No 10. Each by-election represents a different sort of contest, too: the constituencies are in different parts of the electoral map and have their own dynamics. But together, they allow us to measure the electoral state of the nation. Uxbridge, Boris Johnson’s former seat, is the sort of suburban Labour/Conservative marginal that Keir Starmer will have ...

18 July 2023

Tory Defence Committee chair could be ousted over “Taliban propaganda”

The Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood has published a widely ridiculed video praising the Afghan government.

By Rachel Wearmouth

The Tory chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee could face a vote of no confidence in his leadership after releasing a video praising the transformation of Afghanistan since the Taliban regained power in 2021. One MP called it the spreading of “propaganda for the Taliban” and “breathtakingly naive”. Tobias Ellwood, a former defence minister, published the clip on Twitter yesterday (17 July), saying the UK should reopen the British embassy in Kabul and “re-engage” with the state. He claimed security in the country was “vastly improved”, corruption was reduced and the opium trade had ended. Ellwood, who has served in the army (though he did not fight in Afghanistan), visited the Taliban-controlled nation with the landmine clearance charity ...

18 July 2023

“Cautious Rachel” defends two-child benefit cap

Rachel Reeves and Wes Streeting put on a jovial show of Labour unity amid rumours of division.

By Zoë Grünewald

Reports of divisions in the Labour Party have been swirling following Keir Starmer’s refusal to back scrapping the two-child benefits cap. But last night (17 July), at a New Statesman and Labour Together reception, Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, attempted to show the crowd of hacks, politicians and aides that the shadow cabinet is united. Reeves, who alongside Starmer is facing criticism from MPs and activists over the benefits cap, insisted that maintaining it was vital to “rebuild the trust” of the electorate. She said that Labour needed both "creative Rachel" and “cautious Rachel" to make sure "we can have creative Wes, creative Bridget [Phillipson, the shadow education secretary], and creative everyone else" in ...

18 July 2023

Will the child benefit cap fracture Starmerism?

Shadow cabinet ministers are toeing the line but the Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said he will still scrap the two-child limit.

By Freddie Hayward

On it goes. The shadow cabinet ministers Jon Ashworth and Lucy Powell have been sent out to media studios to prove their loyalty and defend Keir Starmer’s commitment to keep the two-child benefit cap. The policy has led to quiet disgruntlement throughout the party. Anas Sarwar has said Scottish Labour remains committed to ditching the policy. Several MPs expressed misgivings at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting last night. Meanwhile, Jamie Driscoll, the North of Tyne mayor, has resigned from the party after Labour refused to select him as a candidate for the North East mayoral election. Ashworth and Powell took the line that Labour won’t introduce unfunded spending commitments, with Powell going so far as to say “there’s no money left, ...

18 July 2023

A brief history of “woke drinks”

In declaring a negroni the signature drink of the woke, GB News has forgotten about craft beers and natural wine.

By Felicity Cloake

There was bad news last week for aperitivo-loving bigots, as the self-styled “people’s news channel” GB News declared the negroni the signature drink of the “woke… establishment media” – something that would probably surprise the 19th-century Corsican count and decorated cavalry officer credited with its creation. But I doubt this ruby-red cocktail, apparently a favourite of David and Samantha Cameron, is only popular with the socially aware: these days everyone is drinking them… apart from, it seems, the handful of people watching GB News. And that’s fine – one should only drink what one enjoys, and for a long time the British did not share the Italian enthusiasm for bitter tipples. Indeed I suspect that this was part of the negroni’s ...

17 July 2023

The two-child benefit cap makes the future a luxury

Labour should scrap the welfare limit as a first step to a more family-friendly tax system.

By Henry Hill

George Osborne advanced perhaps the most important argument in favour of the two-child benefit cap. Announcing the policy to limit tax credits and welfare payments after the second child in 2015, he said that it aimed “to ensure that families in receipt of benefits faced the same financial choices about having children as those supporting themselves solely in work”. This is important not because it explains why the cap, which Keir Starmer has now said a Labour government would keep, was introduced – this is the Treasury we’re talking about, it was to save money – but because it explains why the cap is so persistently popular with the electorate. It has not, after all, actually worked, at least according to its ...