Boris Johnson’s outdone Henry VIII in having his third marriage blessed by the Catholic church

More double standards? – Owl 

“The prime minister’s marriage to Carrie Symonds in Westminster Cathedral has left many Catholics with a question. If the mother church of the Catholic church in England and Wales can kill the fatted calf and welcome the twice-divorced prime minister as a prodigal son, why are so many other divorcees being turned away?

Christopher Lamb  (Extract)

People are upset by what feels like double standards. Too often it seems church leaders are willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the powerful in ways the poorest, or those without influence, are simply not offered.

While the prime minister’s colourful record on marriage presents no impediment to a cathedral wedding, there are countless of other divorcees who have been refused a church marriage unless they get an annulment. Same-sex couples, meanwhile, were told by the Vatican recently that church blessings are impossible for them because God “cannot bless sin”.

According to church rules, the prime minister and his wife, who is a Catholic, were within their rights to be married in the cathedral. They got the green light because Johnson’s earlier marriages took place outside the Catholic church and without the necessary permissions. As he is a baptised Catholic, those marriages are invalid in the church’s eyes and he was free to marry. All of this is fine if you are comfortable with the intricacies of canon law, but to outsiders it looks like Mr and Mrs Johnson found a legal loophole……………”

(See also “In the court of King Henry”)

Plans to restrict judicial review weaken the rule of law, MPs warn

Plans “restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts”. – What rot – Owl

Proposals to restrict judicial review are an affront to the principles of fairness and government accountability and should be dropped, a cross-party group of MPs and peers has said.

Haroon Siddique 

In a letter to the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, the signatories, including Liberal Democrat, Labour, Green party and Scottish National party MPs, say changes to the way legal challenges against the government can be brought are unjustified.

After a four-week consultation, the government confirmed in the Queen’s speech that it would press ahead with a judicial review bill, legislating to “restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts”.

In their letter to Buckland, the Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, Labour’s Clive Lewis, the SNP’s Joanna Cherry QC, the Green MP Caroline Lucas and 28 others say the proposals “would weaken both individuals and the courts, and effectively put government actions beyond the reach of the law.

“Together, these changes would make it much harder for people to put things right when mistakes are made or governments overstep their bounds. They would undermine the rule of law and the crucial principles of fairness and accountability.”

A judicial review is a court proceeding where a judge examines the lawfulness of an action or a decision of a public body. The review looks at the way a decision has been reached, rather than the rights and wrongs of that decision.

The letter, also signed by Plaid Cymru, Democratic Unionist party and Alliance party MPs, says the changes are based on a “false claim” by the government that a panel led by Lord Faulks QC had found that courts in judicial review cases had become more prone “to edge away from a strictly supervisory jurisdiction”.

Faulks has since said the panel did not identify such a “trend” and “was not ultimately convinced that judicial review needed radical reform”. The Bar Council, Law Society, Constitutional and Administrative Law Association, Liberty, Justice and the Public Law Project have all pointed out this disconnect with Faulks’s review, the letter says.

Wera Hobhouse, the Lib Dem justice spokesperson, who initiated the letter, said: “The government’s proposals to restrict judicial review are another Conservative assault on the rule of law. On top of their crackdown on the right to peaceful protest, they are now trying to limit people’s ability to hold governments to account through the courts.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We made a manifesto commitment to ensure the judicial review process is not open to abuse or delay, or used to conduct politics by another means.

“Our bill – set out in the Queen’s speech – delivers on that pledge and will protect the judiciary from being drawn into political controversies. Its measures will be informed by the responses to our consultation.”

Tory-run Darlington’s £20,000 rebranding has Labour in a blue funk

More bricks in a former Labour “red wall” seat are to turn blue, as Tory-run Darlington Borough Council prepares to introduce a £20,000 rebranding exercise that would see the the town hall signage, crest and even the local bins change to match Conservative colours.

Maya Wolfe-Robinson

Labelled as “sheer political opportunism” by a local Labour councillor, the funding for the redesign comes from £23m awarded to Darlington, in the Tees Valley, from the government’s “towns fund”, according to the council’s deputy leader who is behind the plans.

But councillor Jonathan Dulston insists that the new logo is “not blue – it’s actually teal … It’s a colour that has been widely used by the council for a number of years now”, he told the Guardian. He maintains that the choice for the redesign, which sees the red, green and yellow elements of the crest change to a single colour for all council related business, has nothing to do with Conservative branding.

“Absolutely nothing. That would be inappropriate, and we know that. Ultimately the council – although we are in control – has to be independent from any party politics, so we wouldn’t want to go down that road in any way, shape or form,” he said.

But Dulston did admit that the aim was to distance the current council from previous administrations. Labour lost control of Darlington Borough council after decades in power in May 2019, months before the town voted in a Tory MP for the first time since 1992.

The Darlington council old logo as it currently looks.

The Darlington council old logo as it currently looks. Photograph: Darlington council

The council is undergoing “a transformation project” in an effort to “reconnect” with residents “because we know that the relationship under previous administrations has been damaged”, he said.

The £1bn scheme intended to boost struggling towns, announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in this year’s budget, has been criticised for appearing to show bias towards areas with Conservative MPs. When the pot was announced, Labour accused the government of attempting to “shore up” Tory votes with “cosmetic” projects in hand-picked constituencies after a Guardian analysis showed that 39 of the 45 recipients of towns fund handouts have Conservative MPs.

The rebranding exercise voted through will “provide a visible and symbolic signal to residents” that the council is undergoing change and is part of its “progressive transformative agenda”, according to council documents.

Dulston said the reinvention had been supported by local MP Peter Gibson who – following last month’s local elections – wrote an article in the Northern Echo headlined “The world is turning blue, and we’re only just getting started”.

Darlington council’s proposed facelift.

Study in blue: Darlington council’s proposed facelift. Photograph: Darlington council

Labour councillor Nick Wallis said many Darlington residents had expressed unhappiness with the proposals, particularly, he said “as we’re a local authority under the cosh, in terms of austerity and council tax has just been put up by 5%”.

He said the way the decision had being taken, without consultation or planning and “the sheer political opportunism” was becoming a hallmark of the local Tory administration, emboldened by newfound popularity for Conservatives across the Tees Valley, symbolised by the landslide re-election of mayor Ben Houchen.

“What’s different is the way in which they’re getting about cementing their power, and that is all about image,” Wallis said.

“They’re going about their business in a very clever and very cynical way. I’ve never seen anything like this before. I don’t think in the long term, the people of this town will be fooled by it.”

“This doesn’t paint, dare I say it, Darlington Council in a good light,” added Wallis. “We don’t want to be in the headlines for these reasons. It’s a misuse of the town’s fund money and I’m sure it won’t be the last occasion.”

Why The Catch-Up Czar’s Resignation Is Boris Johnson’s Problem

This was meant to be a quiet week. Commons in recess, a ‘holding pattern’ on Covid, Whitehall treading water while it waits for the latest data on the pandemic. Aside from an update on foreign travel from Grant Shapps on Thursday, the big ‘event’ marked on the No.10 grid was today’s catch-up cash for schools. 

Paul Waugh

An emergency £1.4bn, on top of an extra £1.7bn already announced for pupils, could have been spun as a statement of intent, an interim measure pending a bigger funding settlement in the chancellor’s spending review later this year. But thanks to some great work by the Times, which exclusively revealed earlier this week just how much cash had been requested, the PR plan was smashed to bits.

Sir Kevan Collins, the catch-up czar, had wanted £15bn but instead got less than a tenth of that, at least in the short term. And his resignation words tonight blasted both barrels not just at the hapless Gavin Williamson (whose departure from Education in a reshuffle seems all but guaranteed), but also at Boris Johnson himself.

By referring explicitly to the failure to provide help to pupils in deprived areas in the north, Collins appeared to expose the PM’s “levelling up” agenda as a hollow trick played on all those who voted Tory in May. “In parts of the country where schools were closed for longer, such as the north, the impact of low skills on productivity is likely to be particularly severe,” he said.

It’s worth remembering that Collins was never going to be a government pushover. He is widely respected for his work in education, and as recently as March he told the education select committee that the £1.7bn first pledged was “not sufficient”. He wanted a comprehensive recovery plan, not a sticking plaster, so it’s perhaps no surprise he’s ripped it off to lay bare the wounds underneath.

This isn’t just about the education gap. For Johnson, this underlines once more the yawning gap between his rhetoric and actual delivery. Back in June 2020, he promised “a massive summer catch-up operation”, but nothing of the kind materialised. Yes, the fresh lockdowns knocked things even more off course, yet parents, pupils and teachers won’t easily forget the promises made.

This March, I remember vividly Johnson telling a No.10 news conference how much catch-up mattered. “The legacy issue I think for me is education,” he said. “It’s the loss of learning for so many children and young people that’s the thing we’ve got to focus on now as a society. And I think it is an opportunity to make amends.” If the PM can’t deliver on his own professed personal priority coming out of the pandemic, what chance do all the other policy areas have?

Critics will point out too that unlike other areas of government (social care, anyone?), there is at least a plan worked up by Collins to “make amends”. His bigger package was about extra teaching time, not just tutoring. Still, there are some in government who tonight are pointing out the idea of an extra half hour on the school day did not go down well with teachers.

The longer day was “not thought through” and not “evidence based”, both of which are red flags to the Treasury. Moreover, doling out £15bn – half the annual primary and pre-primary school budget – between spending reviews was seen as imprudence fiscal management. Allies of the chancellor insist this isn’t about being stingy. “If we just start signing off massive cheques outside of a formal process, there lies mismanagement of taxpayers’ money!” one says.

Yet ultimately the PM is, as he joked in recent months, the First Lord of the Treasury. If he’d really wanted a big, bold plan for education catch-up with big, bold spending to match, he could have got it. The political problem is that an independent expert in schooling has now delivered a damning verdict on Johnson’s central “levelling up” policy, or rather the lack of one

Collins has also made early years education his priority, stressing its social as well as academic benefit, and its underfunding in recent years. The Tories’ closure of SureStarts is perhaps one of their biggest policy errors in the past decade of austerity. Amazingly, Labour has failed to ram home that very point, and has shown a woeful lack of focus on childcare and early years (evidenced by Jeremy Corbyn’s priority of student tuition fees, but under Starmer there’s been no real grabbing of the agenda either).

A cynic might say that the expected grade inflation in this year’s GCSE and A-level exam results will smooth over the problem. But if metrics emerge that younger children of all backgrounds are falling behind expected benchmarks, the lack of a proper “catch-up” or “recovery” plan will be received bitterly by parents who struggled with the home-schooling imposed on them this past year.

It’s possible Johnson will again wriggle out of this latest tight spot. But remember that two of the biggest U-turns forced on him over the past year both involved education: the A-levels fiasco and free school meals. And both were issues of competence.

Collins’ resignation may have gifted Starmer his most powerful weapon yet, offering at the next election a simple way to sum up broken Tory promises and incompetence. Whether Labour can capitalise is another matter.

Council thanked for moving travellers off Sidford Rugby Pitches

A group of travellers who occupied Sidford rugby field during the Bank Holiday weekend were moved on by East Devon District Council, which owns the land.

Philippa Davies 

A number of caravans and other vehicles were seen on the site, which is used by Sidmouth Rugby Club, on Sunday, May 30.

Their arrival was reported to the district council (EDDC), which took swift action.

A spokesperson said: “Council representatives visited the site over the weekend and followed usual procedures to serve the travellers with notices to leave.

“They left on Monday morning. The site has now been secured.

“Some litter was left on the site, but our Streetscene Team quickly reacted and the site was tidied within an hour.”

On Monday, Sidmouth RFC posted a message of ‘heartfelt thanks’ to the council for dealing with the issue.

It said: “We would like to sincerely thank EDDC estates & property team for their reactiveness & robust response in ensuring sports fields in Sidford are once again available for boys & girls to enjoy rugby & recreational activities.

“EDDC have been superb & communicated with the club throughout.”