MP criticises North Devon broadband: “circle of doom”

North Devon’s MP has criticised the government’s “piecemeal” approach to high-speed internet connectivity in her rural constituency. 

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday [26 January], North Devon’s Conservative MP Selaine Saxby said she wanted faster roll-out of fibre internet than currently planned for North Devon.

Ms Saxby said: “The pandemic has clearly showed how vital connectivity is to all our communities, as those without good broadband have struggled with so much during the pandemic. 

“Too many schoolchildren have explained to me the problems of the circle of doom, so I thank [BT] Openreach again for coming to the aid of some of my more rural primary schools and expediting their broadband connection, but I remain concerned that this piecemeal approach to connectivity and the focus on competition in urban conurbations is reducing fibre access altogether in rural Britain.

“If we are truly to level up our rural communities, speeding up our digital roll-out to them is vital.”

Fibre-optic broadband offers much faster internet speeds and a more reliable connection than older home broadband networks that run on old-fashioned copper telephone lines.

The MP, who is also chair of the all-party parliamentary group on broadband and digital communication, added: “In this day and age, fibre broadband is a utility, and there should be universal provision. 

“Rural constituencies such as mine should not be left behind to facilitate market competition in our towns and cities.”

Ms Saxby wants a change of approach: “before any other visitors to my lovely constituency find themselves in an all-too-readily-available North Devon notspot.”

She was speaking at the second reading of the Product Security and Telecommunications Bill.  

It is aimed at speeding up the deployment and expansion of mobile, full-fibre and superfast capable networks across the UK and will introduce new measures to make ‘smart’ products more secure against cyber attacks. 

Plymouth councillor deselected: Senior Tory expresses “complete surprise”

A senior Plymouth Tory councillor has expressed his anger and “complete surprise” after not being selected by his party to run in upcoming elections.

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter 

Councillor Downie has been a city councillor for almost eight years and was planning to stand again as the Conservative candidate for Budshead in the May elections.

The move is particularly surprising given that cllr Downie is also a cabinet member for education, skills and children and young people, and chair of the council’s corporate parenting group.

It’s not clear why he had his application to represent the party rejected by the eight-member approvals panel of Plymouth Moor View Conservative Association on Saturday 22 January. 

Cllr Downie said he was supported by the leader of the council, Nick Kelly (Conservatives, Compton) who, Downie said, “gave a very good testimony” prior to the interview.

“I interviewed extremely well in the opinion of my leader and in my own humble opinion but, for whatever reason, the panel chose not to approve me as a candidate in the ward that I have served for eight years.”

He said it was a “complete surprise…to be deselected by your own association is extremely upsetting and has made me very angry, if truth be told.”

Cllr Kelly says the matter was not directly a matter for the Conservative group at Plymouth City Council, nor a decision the group has control over. 

Cllr Downie said he “could speculate all day” as to why he was rejected but admitted, “there’s no proof of anything.” 

“I have my own thoughts and opinions as to why my own executive wouldn’t support me, although I have an unblemished record.”

Cllr Downie said he had the support of the council leader and that he would be appealing the decision, although he can only appeal on technicalities and processes. 

He added: “I don’t understand it. I’m amazed that in this day and age there can be a secret ballot with no feedback given as to why someone was not chosen.

“These unelected people [at the Conservative Association] are allowed to make unelected decisions about other people’s livelihoods and not give any feedback and any information as to why they declined their application for approval.”

Margaret Boadella, chair of the Plymouth Moor View Conservative Association said she was unable to comment on the decision at the moment.

Cllr Downie said if his appeal fails he would “seriously consider” standing an independent candidate for Budshead.

He said: “I would like to think I would gather quite a few votes because I’m extremely well known there, I’ve done a lot of work for the community over the years.

“I’d like to think I could challenge whoever was put up in Budshead ward and give them a good fight.” 

Joe Lycett says Sue Gray report stunt motivated by anger over friend’s death

The comedian Joe Lycett, who apparently caused chaos and “mass panic” in government when he tweeted a fake version of Sue Gray’s “partygate” report, has said his social media stunt was motivated by anger after the death of a close friend during the first lockdown.

Caroline Davies 

Lycett tweeted a parody Gray report with a fake Cabinet Office letterhead, titled: “A summary of my main findings”, captioning his tweet: “BREAKING: Leaked Sue Gray report reveals shocking abuse of rules. Hard to see how the PM can cling on after this.”

He later shared a message that he said came “from someone who works for a cabinet minister. Source verified.”

The message, purportedly from someone who works in parliament, read: “Your tweet this morning was read as an actual serious leak from Sue Gray’s report. U had MP staff literally running around panicking from what it said. Panic dialling MPs like we need to discuss this right now.”

Among the “findings” on his faked document, Lycett stated that at one party a “senior minister” insisted all cabinet ministers get on to a table and perform Pure & Simple by Hear’Say, that one of Johnson’s staff was referred to as “Twateral Flow”, and that a video of Johnson’s wife, Carrie, confirmed her attendance and she was overheard saying “it could be as few as four and as many as 60 kids”. Games were played called “Slow Dance” and “Pass the Arsehole”, the fake findings said.

He finished the fake report with: “Please forward any queries to my email”

Explaining his motivation, Lycett tweeted on Friday: “I wrote some jokes on Twitter, some dumb people (some in our government) found them plausible rather than funny and now I’m in most of the newspapers. I write comedy sometimes as a way of using anger.”

He said he was “angry right now probably for the same reason many other people are angry”. He explained that his best friend died from cancer in 2020 but he was unable to be there for him “because I was following the rules”.

“So I suppose like thousands of others with their own stories, I’m angry about that.”

Corruption experts warn Boris Johnson’s government is worst since WWII

Experts have warned that Boris Johnson‘s administration is more corrupt “than any UK government since the Second World War”.

Researchers at Sussex University’s Centre for the Study Corruption warned that the “absolute failure of integrity at No 10” could have potentially serious consequences for the UK if allowed to fester.

It comes as opposition figures warned of the “appearance of an establishment stitch-up” over an inquiry into rule-breaking at Downing Street.

The Metropolitan Police on Friday said it had asked civil servant Sue Gray to remove key details of potential illegality from her long-awaited report into the Partygate scandal – citing a need not to prejudice its own separate investigation.

The development means some aspects of behaviour at Downing Street may not be made public at a key moment of political danger for the PM – and even raises the prospect that some facts might never see the light of day at all.

Robert Barrington, Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at the Centre for the Study of Corruption in the University of Sussex said: “There is more corruption and corruption risk in and around this government than any UK government since the Second World War.

“The PM has direct influence on this through personal example and through what he allows amongst his Ministers and No. 10 staff.

“There has been an absolute failure of integrity at No 10 which has consequences for democracy and Britain’s global influence – and longer term, if unchecked, for the economy and national security.

“The enablers of this are any MPs or Ministers that allow the failure of integrity to go unchecked. But – although standards have slipped, they can still be restored, if there is the political will to do so.”

The latest row over the Partygate inquiry came just 48 hours after new evidence suggested that the prime minister misled the public over his role prioritising the evacuation of animals from Afghanistan last year. He had previously denied any involvement.

The prime minister has also found himself embroiled in a scandal over private donors financing a lavish refurbishment of his private Downing Street flat.

And last year the government was forced to back down after it moved to abolish a standards watchdog which had recommended mild sanctions against a Tory MP who broke lobbying rules.

Dr Sam Power, a lecturer in corruption analysis at the anti-corruption centre, said: “We didn’t really need a detailed inquiry to know what Partygate is. Either having a party, or indeed a work event, is in blatant contravention of the rules as written, and the commonly understood way in which the British public was expected to behave during the height of the pandemic.

“Partygate is indicative of Johnson’s reckless approach to the rules and the kind of behaviour that the public expects of those in the highest office.

“Whilst this cavalier approach to ethics is, in part, baked into his wider electoral appeal his standing is now damaged beyond repair with the British people.

“Whether Conservatives decide Gray’s report is enough to warrant a change of leadership, is an open question. But his standing is now so damaged with the voters that MPs may well consider if one of Johnson’s core strengths, his electability, is now a fatal weakness. To many, the joke simply isn’t funny anymore, if it ever really was.”

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group on Friday said the the investigation into No 10 lockdown parties was becoming “circus”.

Fran Hall, whose husband served in the police for more than three decades before dying with coronavirus, accused the Metropolitan Police of letting bereaved families down.

The Met has asked for Sue Gray’s partygate report to make “minimal reference” to events it is investigating to avoid prejudicing inquiries – but this has led to criticism that the findings will be watered down.

Tory MP Roger Gale meanwhile described the latest development as a “farce created in Scotland Yard”, while Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said the proceedings risked giving the “appearance of an establishment stitch-up”.

“First the police were waiting for Sue Gray, now Sue Gray has to wait for the police?” he said.

“Any appearance of an establishment stitch-up between the Met Commissioner and the Government is profoundly damaging. Police officers need the trust and confidence of the public to do their jobs and keep our communities safe.

“That’s why we called for the police to investigate Number 10 weeks ago and put this whole sorry business behind us, instead of waiting for Sue Gray.

“The Sue Gray report must be published in full, including all photos, text messages and other evidence. If it is redacted now, a full, unredacted version must be published as soon as the police investigation is complete.”