Martin McGuinness stepped down yesterday as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister. His resignation letter rapped the Democratic Unionist Party for backing austerity and blocking women’s and LGBT rights, and attacked the first minister, Arlene Foster, for refusing to stand down temporarily while an independent inquiry is conducted into a botched renewable energy scheme. The scandal, known as ‘cash for ash’, began in 2013 when a whistleblower pointed out what was happening as a result of Renewable Heat Incentive subsidies not being capped. Farms and businesses that signed up to the scheme before it was shut down last year get £1.60 from the government for every pound spent on non-fossil fuels, without limit. The more wood they burn, the more money they make. One farmer is set to net a million quid over twenty years by heating an empty shed.
If you were so inclined, at the Conservative Party Conference you could don a virtual reality headset, sit on a McDonald’s branded lorry, grasp the steering wheel in front of you and pretend to be a potato farmer. Delegates who liked more violence in their fantasies could have a go on the grouse shooting simulator. If it was retail therapy you wanted, a cushion with John Major’s face on would set you back £30, but you could buy two white babysuits printed with ‘Little Iron Lady’ or ‘Future Prime Minister’ for the same price.
The mood at the Labour Party Conference this year was markedly different from last year: after Jeremy Corbyn’s victory was announced in Brighton in 2015, there was a huge amount of jubilation among delegates, while many MPs and political advisers wandered around the bars at night with bereft expressions. In Liverpool this week, the most that supporters could muster was temporary relief as they wondered where the attack would come from next. At private parties, MPs looked resigned as they gossiped with journalists.
Theresa May looks set to be Britain's second female prime minister, now that Andrea Leadsom has quit the Tory leadership race. It would be wrong to hail this as a victory for feminism. May's record as home secretary suggests that her government would be especially punitive for women at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum, or with precarious migration status.
Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was killed yesterday outside her constituency surgery in Birstall, West Yorkshire. The circumstances alone are shocking, but the details make it more unbearable: a former head of policy at Oxfam, she had fought for years on maternal mortality, and supported Alf Dubs’s amendment to the Immigration Bill that would have allowed 3000 unaccompanied child refugees into the country; she was a young and newly elected MP; she was the mother of two small children, who will grow up without her; she was killed after sitting in a library waiting for constituents to tell her their problems. Her death comes during a poisonous referendum campaign that has focused on race and nationalism, and the person accused of stabbing and shooting her has reportedly had links with far-right white supremacist groups. According to witnesses he shouted 'Britain first' during the attack. Hate is an easy emotion to provoke but a difficult one to control.
The first time I wrote an article for a newspaper, the first online comment said: 'If I ever see you in the street, I hope you get shot.' The article was about being abused and harassed in the street, specifically while cycling. I wasn't surprised that the online comments mirrored the behaviour the article addressed. But unlike the men who shouted at me as I waited on my bike in Clapham, the online commenter could be sure I wouldn't spit in his face in response.
On Newsnight last week, Gillian Duffy, the 71-year-old branded 'a sort of bigoted woman' by Gordon Brown during the 2010 election campaign, was interviewed in a segment on the European Union referendum. The EU, Duffy claimed, wasted 'trillions' each year, but she also said she was 'frightened of losing our identity, that’s what I’m afraid of, we’ll never get England back to how it was.' In the five years since Brown’s gaffe, Duffy has been hunted down repeatedly by journalists, to be asked her views on Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, the direction of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and now the EU referendum. Duffy’s insights into politics aren’t groundbreaking in their perspicacity: she’s treated as a curio, trotted out as a bellwether of working-class feeling.
New College Doncaster, a sixth form free school that hopes to open in 2016, told potential pupils on its website: ‘if you are predicted to achieve more than 5 A grades in your GCSEs, we will offer you the opportunity to receive £500 and a place in our Excellence Academy to support your post-16 education.’ The cash, to be paid on enrolment, would come from public funds. There isn't a pressing need for a new sixth-form college in Doncaster, and a free school needs signatures from 1000 parents before it can open. Poaching good pupils with cash is an easy way to boost support, and there's nothing to stop the school spending money this way. Still, it’s come in for criticism: the editor of Academies Week said it was ‘at best questionable, but at worst it’s an uncosted bribe’. The announcement (along with everything else) has since been removed from the New College Doncaster website, which is ‘currently undergoing maintenance’.