Over the last seven weeks more than 230 undocumented migrants have crossed the English Channel, with forty completing the journey on Christmas Day alone. In the first ten months of 2018, only 220 people made it. The recent spike coincides with increasing numbers of Iranians arriving in Calais. According to one estimate, 40 per cent of the 500 refugees who sleep rough in the town come from Iran.
Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, has said he expects to see the first delivery of cargo to Mars using his new Interplanetary Transport System as early as 2022, with the first manned mission following two years later. A manned mission to Mars may sound implausible, but so did just about everything else that Musk’s company has achieved in the last fifteen years.
Despite Labour’s troubles, recent polling by YouGov showed the party still commands a national lead among the under-40s. Among men it’s by a single point, within the margin of error, but among younger women it rises to 15 points – astonishing given the Tories currently lead by as much as twenty points nationally. That should offer some succour to the team around Jeremy Corbyn, and is likely to confirm the experiences of his supporters in conversations with friends or canvassing for the party. But it is also, in the context of electoral success, relatively meaningless. Older voters decide who wins.
On Thursday, Labour outlined plans to apply VAT on private school fees to fund free school meals for every primary pupil in England. The numbers add up: the provision would cost £900 million a year, and the prospective tax would raise far more than that. Speaking alongside the shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, Jeremy Corbyn said the measure would help ensure that ‘no child is held back because of their background.’ Free school meals are far from gesture politics; their nutritional and cognitive benefits, especially for poorer children, are well documented.
In yesterday’s by-election in Stoke-on-Trent Central, Labour’s Gareth Snell beat the Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, into second place. Many people, in the Labour Party and the media, had talked up Ukip’s chances in advance, with one commentator even speculating it could be ‘Corbyn’s Waterloo’. Last summer, 70 per cent of the city voted to leave the EU, with Nuttall describing the seat as Britain’s ‘Brexit capital’. Between that and Labour’s ever diminishing majorities, Ukip were understandably bullish. But they came second, with only 79 more votes than the Tories. As the dust settles, it’s easy to see why: beyond Nigel Farage, the party contains not one competent politician; Nuttall couldn’t have run a worse campaign; Labour’s ground game was very impressive; and Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to triggering Article 50 meant Labour wasn’t as vulnerable as it could have been over Brexit. Had Owen Smith led the party and insisted on ‘rejecting’ Article 50, things might have turned out very differently.
While Donald Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton in the US presidential race is the starkest example of the failure of the centre-left to confront the rise of right-wing populism, a similar pattern has already been set across Europe.
Last week Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour might consider adopting a universal basic income as party policy. Emphasising the responsibility of government to 'protect citizens' from uncertainty, rather than exacerbate it, he isolated a UBI as a potential solution to the risks of globalisation – but only after proper research and testing. That's probably a good idea, since nobody is really sure what happens when you start to give money to everyone for doing ‘nothing’. There was an experiment in Manitoba in the 1970s, and trials are imminent in Finland and Oakland, California, but they won’t give much sense of how it would work in a country with 65 million people and the world’s sixth biggest economy.
The verities of British politics – its stability, temperance and perceived permanence – are rapidly dissolving. Up to 70 per cent of those who voted Tory last May could be about to vote against the express wishes of the government, in the process forcing David Cameron to resign. If Britain remains in the European Union it will be largely thanks to Labour voters. Yet as many as 45 per cent of them could vote to leave tomorrow, and Brexit high command has been actively seeking their votes for months. Iain Duncan-Smith, who has said nothing about pay over the last six years, recently blamed stagnant wages on immigration. The most prominent Brexit arguments increasingly aren’t about competition or red tape, but protecting the NHS, improving access to council housing and increasing wages – even though leaving the EU wouldn’t help with any of those issues. Talk of ‘Red Ukip’ – a combination of social conservatism and anti-elite populism – came to nothing at the last general election, but it is now the default politics of the leave campaign.
After last night’s defeat in New York it will be next to impossible for Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination. But he has transformed the complexion of US politics. He has described the movement behind him as a ‘political revolution’, and while it can be framed historically – Sanders often invokes both Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln – his radicalism is unprecedented for a potential nominee in recent times.
The Trade Union Bill represents an existential threat to the Labour Party. If passed it would change the way workers pay into their union political fund, at present the only means by which the unions are allowed to fund the party. The Bill proposes that, rather than having to opt out of the political levy, as is presently the case, unionists would have to agree to pay, in writing, every five years. There are four million levy payers in unions currently affiliated to Labour; the change could lose the party as much as £8 million a year. The House of Lords voted earlier this month that the proposed reforms should apply only to new members. The reprieve may prove temporary.