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Here's All the Bad News That Was Buried on the Last Day of Parliament

From selling arms to the Saudis to a secret bump in tuition fees, it's time to get pissed off about everything the government thought you wouldn't notice.
July 25, 2016, 11:35am

No one is avaliable to answer your fury right now, please check back in five weeks when you will have been distracted by something else terrible. Via

At little after 2PM on 11th of September, 2001, minor British government adviser Jo Moore glanced up at rolling news and tapped out a quick email to colleagues:

"It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors' expenses?".

Six weeks later her email leaked and she was sacked in an almighty media firestorm about spin. But not before she'd managed to permanently embed the phrase "good day to bury bad news" into our pop culture.

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In commemoration of her heroic self-destruction, British politics still maintains an annual "good day to bury bad news" in late July. It's the day when Parliament breaks up for its summer recess. It's when the hacks are all on the beach with a Lee Child paperback, when ministers stop answering their phones, and the public couldn't give a toss what's in the news either way, because they too are on the beach, or in the pub, or at least heavily pissed and way past caring.

The civil service then releases hundreds of written responses to Parliamentary questions in one go - they made it to over 300 this year - in the hope that a Hiroshima-level data dump will make focusing on any one embarrassing revelation impossible.

This year, the day had the added bonus of coming among an unrelenting maelstrom of terrorism, political collapse and post-Brexit fears, meaning people are paying less attention to day-to-day parliamentary affairs than ever before.

Here are the best of this year's worst that we've truffled out of the info-pile. An astonishing list of cock-ups and outright cynicism, a bad news beat poem to put the icing on this baddest of years.

MAYBE WE SHOULDN'T HAVE SOLD ALL THOSE GUNS TO THE SAUDIS TO TORTURE YEMENIS WITH

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In February, the Foreign Office was asked whether it was in breach of its own human rights policy by selling arms to the Saudis. This was important, given the Saudis were fighting a pretty dirty war in the Yemen. No no no, the FO stated: "We have assessed that there has not been a breach of IHL (international humanitarian law) by the coalition".

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But - whoops - someone forgot about where words should go in sentences. On Thursday, they admitted that this statement should have read: "We have not assessed that there has been a breach of IHL by the coalition." The exact opposite.

All of this is more important because, thanks to kinder-gentler nation-invader Tony Blair, Britain now has a supposedly ethical policy underpinning its massive arms export industry. But it turned out that far from knowing whether the notoriously human rights-unfriendly Saudis were torturing people as they rampaged neighbouring Yemen, the British government hadn't bothered to check. In fact, they admitted it would be basically impossible for them to check.

THE KICKER

In unrelated news, the info blizzard also revealed that two Saudi diplomats had been "asked to leave" Britain because they'd brought actual real-life slaves into the country. So current government thinking seems to be: yes their diplomats keep literal slaves, but let's take their word for it on human rights.

TUITION FEES ARE GOING UP AGAIN

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From September 2017, universities which meet certain criteria will be allowed to hoist their tuition fees up by another £250 a year – a 2.8 percent increase at a time when inflation is running at 0.5 percent. This will, of course, only be permitted for universities that demonstrate excellence, in terms of something called the "Teaching Excellence Framework".

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Unfortunately, the TEF doesn't actually exist yet. They're still working it out. Solution? For its first year, all universities will simply be defined as "excellent" on the TEF, and be allowed to get away with the extra £250. It seems this has already been communicated to the universities - many of them already published the new fees on their websites before the announcement was even made. Too bad no one told MPs: two days before the good day for bad news, Parliament had already held a debate on tuition fees in which the new, higher caps weren't even mentioned.

THE KICKER

At least we're not pipelining thickos to our hugely expensive, newly excellent universities. Oh wait, another buried announcement indicated that the schools budget is going to be cut by about 1.5 percent per pupil, under changes to the local government funding formula.

WE GAVE £2.4 MILLION TO A WOMAN WHO COULDN'T GET HMRC TO PICK UP THE PHONE HALF THE TIME

Lin Homer gives evidence to Parliament. Screengrab.

Lin Homer is perhaps best known for failing at everything. In fact, it's hard to pick her biggest fuck-up from a CV that includes presiding over a vote-rigging scandal in Birmingham that the Electoral Commissioner said "would have disgraced a banana republic", being in charge of immigration at exactly the point when John Reid coined the phrase 'not fit for purpose' (after her department released a thousand foreign criminals "by mistake"), and writing off 100,000 asylum applications without investigating any of them, just to help clear a 400,000 backlog.

It was against this background of failing-upwards that Homer, who was also made a Dame in the New Years Honours List, was catapulted to the top of HMRC - you know, the entire mechanism by which the government gets the money it then spends on stuff.

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She presided over a scandal in which millions of tax bills were miscalculated in 2014, she only secured one prosecution across the 6800 UK citizen Swiss bank accounts uncovered that same year, dished out "sweetheart deals" to large corporations, and was forced to go in front of the Public Accounts Committee last year to confess that, no, it probably wasn't good enough that HMRC didn't even pick up the phone to 50 percent of callers.

For her services in maintaining the British tax office in the shambolic state to which it has become accustomed, the Dame raked in more than the PM's salary just in additional pension growth last year (£225,000), taking her overall pot to £2.4 million.

THE KICKER

It also turns out that the gap between what HMRC hypothetically should collect and what it actually does has gone up under Dame Lin, to £34 billion - which is approximately the entire schools budget.

THERE IS NO HOUSING CRISIS

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If by that you mean "second home housing crisis". In fact, the rushed-out Housing Survey for this year reveals that there's been a 19 percent rise in second homes across the UK in just three years, up to a total of 375,000. Meanwhile, the number of those expecting to become first-time buyers has decreased again by another 14 percent year-on-year.

THE KICKER

Those living in council homes with spare bedrooms have, according to the same survey, been falling into ever-deeper arrears since government removed their effective subsidy, with some 57,000 now behind on their rent. Second home taxes? Politically unfeasible, we're always told. Second room taxes? Here to stay.

FROM NOW ON, NURSES WILL HAVE TO HELP THEMSELVES FIRST

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Brexit, we're often told, was a key battle in the war over the shape of 21st century globalisation. A peasants revolt where ordinary British voters re-asserted the need to grow skills within our own economy rather than endlessly hiring in cheap foreign labour, like, say, the NHS actively recruiting Filipino nurses. But if Brexit means Brexit, then what's the meaning of the government suddenly revoking the £6000 a year grants available to UK student nurses? With our European worker chums about to depart, it can only mean a never-ending skills gap and falling standards in hospitals.

THE KICKER

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At least the few remaining nurses will still be better off than those whose catheters they're bagging. A civil service report released last week shows that people on the new Personal Independence Payments that replaced Disability Living Allowance were being charged 45p a minute on an 0345 number to learn more about how the new payment schemes would affect them (mainly, that they'd lose £30 a week, plus 45p a minute).

@gavhaynes

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