Afternoon summary

  • John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor, has said that a 12,000 word essay by Sir Keir Starmer setting out his vision for Labour won’t inspire votes and reads “like the Sermon on the Mount written by a focus group”. (See 11.01am, 11.56am and 2.48pm.)
  • Kwasi Kwarteng, the business minister, has conceded that rising energy prices will hit people in the north more because of the colder weather they experience. (See 12.44pm.)

It’s important to restate that there’s no shortage of fuel so people should continue to buy it as usual. Fuel, as in food, we have a very resilient and robust supply chain. So as I say people should continue to shop for fuel as usual.

That’s all from me for today. For more Covid coverage, do read our global live blog.

Here are verdicts on Sir Keir Starmer’s The Road Ahead essay from a Guardian panel, comprising William Davies, Rafael Behr, Ash Sarkar and Caroline Molloy.

Here is an extract from Davies’s article.

It may be instructive to compare Starmer’s vague moderation with the unexpected radicalism of his American counterpart. To the great surprise of much of the left, Joe Biden has so far passed a $2trn stimulus bill, tabled a $1trillion infrastructure bill (with provisions to rebuild the care sector smuggled in), and appointed a 32-year-old antitrust radical as chair of the Federal Trade Commission. Starmer, meanwhile, is still promising to “repair the public finances”.

Here is one from Behr’s.

The two words Keir Starmer wants to be identified with are “security” and “opportunity”. Those are good themes for Labour and available terrain on which to battle Boris Johnson, a lord of chaos and cronyism. Security and opportunity also hint at recognition of something many voters didn’t like about Labour under Jeremy Corbyn – the suspicion that radical leftism is soft on national defence and despises enterprise. So two cleverly chosen words at the heart of Starmer’s pamphlet stake out a viable position. The problem is in the other 13,998, which suffocate decent ideas with platitude and entomb them in boilerplate.

Here is one from Sarkar’s.

The problem is that, as much as they insist otherwise, people actually like being polarised. From Scottish independence to Brexit, we live in an age where the electorate expects to be presented with big, divisive and difficult choices. What defines today’s politics is picking a side, energising your base and fighting tooth and nail for it. The unity Keir Starmer offers is of snoozing us into a politically induced coma.

And here is one from Molloy’s.

Some of Starmer’s instincts in The Road Ahead are right: people will vote for a party that offers them “security” and “opportunity”. Our food, housing, energy needs, health and working lives are as insecure as they’ve been in decades.

Unfortunately the Labour leader seems more intent on soothing the insecurities (and maximising the opportunities) of corporate investors than voters.

Dominic Raab arriving in at the Judge’s entrance to the Royal Courts of Justice this afternoon for his swearing in ceremony as the new lord chancellor.
Dominic Raab arriving in at the Judge’s entrance to the Royal Courts of Justice this afternoon for his swearing in ceremony as the new lord chancellor. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

According to the Mirror’s Rachel Wearmouth, Sir Keir Starmer intends to press ahead with his plans to change Labour’s leadership election rules, despite some unions not supporting him. The key issue is whether he pushes them to a vote at conference.

Those close to Starmer say he aims to press ahead with the Labour rule changes in full, inc OMOV. He would only change course if unions put forward alternative proposals today, I’m told

NEC members have not yet seen any papers for tomorrow’s meeting, however. Deal talks ongoing?

— Rachel Wearmouth (@REWearmouth) September 23, 2021

Sources say Starmer could do deal with 3 moderate unions for rule changes
GMB-wants Lab to back new nuclear & £15-an-hr for carers. Rumours GS wants Ed Miliband sacked over GND "categorically untrue"
USDAW - ? but backs KS generally
UNISON-position also clear. Delegates to meet

— Rachel Wearmouth (@REWearmouth) September 23, 2021

Hearing long-serving MP John Spellar is helping Starmer get rule changes over the line & regional directors frantically calling delegates

One MP overheard saying: “John's like a nuclear submarine. You don’t see him 90% of the time but when he turns up you know someone is fucked”

— Rachel Wearmouth (@REWearmouth) September 23, 2021

A reader has been in touch about my 2.48pm post to ask whether Boris Johnson really is a libertarian. There is plenty of evidence that he is, and there is a particularly good example in Spike, the compelling and very readable book about the Covid crisis written by the Sage scientist Jeremy Farrar with Anjana Ahuja, a journalist. They quote Dominic Cummings, the former No 10 adviser, revealing what Johnson told him in a meeting last year.

Cummings says: ‘In July, I said to [Johnson], ‘Look, much of the media is insane, you’ve got all of these people running around saying there can’t be a second wave, lockdowns don’t work, and all this bullshit. Number 10’s got to be far more aggressive with these people and expose their arguments, and explain that some of the nonsense being peddled should not be treated as equivalent to serious scientists. They were being picked up by pundits and people like Chris Evans [the Telegraph editor] and Bonkers Hitchens [Peter Hitchens].’

According to Cummings, Johnson rejected the idea of being more aggressive with the media, saying, ‘The trouble is, Dom, I’m with Bonkers. My heart is with Bonkers, I don’t believe in any of this, it’s all bullshit. I wish I’d been the Mayor in Jaws and kept the beaches open.’

YouGov has published some new polling ahead of the Labour conference, looking in particular at how the party is doing in “blue wall” and “red wall” seats.

In blue wall seats (defined as Conservative held ones that might be vulnerable, because they voted remain), Labour has made some progress since the general election – partly at the expense of the Lib Dems. YouGov says the party could gain 12 of these seats at an election.

Labour have been making some progress in the Blue Wall, however, taking enough votes to gain 12 more seats in the Tory heartland

Con 45% (-7 from GE2019)
Lab 26% (+6)
Lib Dem 15% (-9)
Green 11% (+9)https://t.co/r4ksYEJiiR pic.twitter.com/y6jNR0QtRD

— YouGov (@YouGov) September 23, 2021

But in the red wall seats (former Labour ones that went Tory in 2019), the party is not seeing its vote rise. However, it could still win back 17 seats at an election because Conservative support has been falling, YouGov says.

The Tory lead in the Red Wall has slipped, but Labour's vote share hasn't increased

Con 44% (-4 on GE2019)
Lab 38% (n/c)

While enough at present to put 17 seats back in Labour hands, the party is still 12pts down on their 2017 Red Wall vote sharehttps://t.co/r4ksYEJiiR pic.twitter.com/n4xcCwTLKl

— YouGov (@YouGov) September 23, 2021

Updated

Richard Ratcliffe and his daughter Gabriella hold signs in Parliament Square, London, today to mark the 2,000th day Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran.
Richard Ratcliffe and his daughter Gabriella hold signs in Parliament Square, London, today to mark the 2,000th day Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Gavin Barwell, the former Conservative MP and minister who was chief of staff to Theresa May at No 10 between 2017 and 2019, says he agrees with all but two of Sir Keir Starmer’s 10 principles. The two that he has reservations about are those I suggested Boris Johnson would also find problematic. (See 2.48pm.)

Just read @Keir_Starmer's ten principles. I agree with eight of them and partially agree with the other two. This either means I am in the wrong party or they are so bland that they don't tell us anything useful about what he would do if he became Prime Minister

— Gavin Barwell (@GavinBarwell) September 23, 2021

Asked which two principles he would only partially support, Barwell replied:

The 5th one ("Families, communities and the things that bring us together must once again be put above individualism") - to a point, but there are some issues on which it is important to defend the rights of individuals

— Gavin Barwell (@GavinBarwell) September 23, 2021

And the 6th one ("The economy should work citizens and communities. It is not good enough to just surrender to market forces") - if he is saying sometimes we need to intervene in markets I agree, but in many areas market forces serve citizens and communities well

— Gavin Barwell (@GavinBarwell) September 23, 2021

According to a report by Dan Bloom for the Mirror, ministers are considering changing the universal credit taper rate in an attempt to lessen the impact of the £20 per week cut coming into force next week.

As Bloom explains, this means that, instead of losing 63p in benefit for every £1 earned, claimants might only lose 60p. He says:

Even if a 3p change in the taper is approved, it will not come close to making up for the £20-a-week cut for most families.

A 25-year-old single mum working 40 hours a week on minimum wage could be £9.39 a week better off if the taper rate was cut from 63p to 60p.

But because UC is being cut by £20 across the board, she would still be £10.61 worse off than she is now.

Downing Street has declined to comment on the report, on the grounds that decisions such as this are announced in the budget.

Updated

Which of Starmer's 10 principles for a 'new contract' with voters could not appear in Tory manifesto?

Turning back to Sir Keir Starmer’s essay on his vision for Labour’s future, The Road Ahead (pdf), the most useful passage for some readers may be the passage at the end where he sets out 10 principles which he says “will form the basis of a new contract between Labour and the British people, rooted in both our party and our country’s values”.

A common complaint is that they are too bland, and that as a result Boris Johnson (or almost anyone else) would happily make these pledges too. Broadly that is true, although it might be helpful to rank them in three categories: Starmer pledges that Johnson could easily match; pledges that Johnson could match, but would define differently; and pledges that Johnson would find problematic.

Pledges that Johnson would easily match

1) We will always put hard-working families and their priorities first.

This is the sort of thing politicians the world over have been saying at least since the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was elected in America promising to stand up for people who “work hard and play by the rules”. The Starmer essay includes two references to people who WHAPBTR, and the Conservative 2019 manifesto also included references to the HWF (hard-working families), their alternative incarnation in this boilerplate political lingo.

2) The role of government is to be a partner to private enterprise, not stifle it.

Again, Johnson would be more than happy to include this line in his next manifesto. (To be fair to Starmer, this pledge is more to do with differentiating himself from Jeremy Corbyn than from Johnson. Corbyn would never have said he was in favour of stifling business, but enough voters suspected he was for this to be a problem.)

Pledges that Johnson would match, but define differently

3) If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be rewarded fairly.

The only thing that might stop Johnson speaking up for the WHAPBTR crowd would be an aversion to cliché, but - as the differences between Labour and the Conservatives on the national living wage (and much else) show - Johnson would apply an alternative definition of “fairly”.

4) People and businesses are expected to contribute to society, as well as receive.

Johnson would agree with this, but he would point out that people and businesses already contribute a lot through their taxes. Starmer seems to be suggesting some of them should contribute more.

5) Your chances in life should not be defined by the circumstances of your birth – hard work and how you contribute should matter.

Johnson would agree too. Although privileged himself, he would argue privately that he has achieved success in life through talent and hard work. But Starmer is here implying that the system is rigged against those not born into privilege - something Johnson would be less willing to accept.

6) The government must play its role in restoring honesty, decency and transparency in public life.

Johnson would claim to support this principle - no one is openly opposed to honesty and decency - but his record on issues like telling the truth and following probity rules means he would struggle to argue this principle with conviction.

7) We are proudly patriotic but we reject the divisiveness of nationalism.

Johnson claims to reject divisiveness, although his culture war record casts doubt on his sincerity in this regard. This line may be aimed as much at the SNP (who feature quite prominently in Starmer’s essay) as much as the Conservatives. But even the SNP are a bit squeamish about being called nationalists, and Nicola Sturgeon herself has said it might be better if her party had a different name.

Pledges that Johnson might find problematic

8) The government should treat taxpayer money as if it were its own. The current levels of waste are unacceptable.

Johnson obviously could not endorse this, because the second sentence is directly critical of his record. He would be happy to sign up to the first sentence, although it has clearly been included to imply that, as the scandal about PPE contracts revealed, the Tories are misusing public money.

9) Families, communities and the things that bring us together must once again be put above individualism.

This is one of only two statements in the list of 10 that suggests a genuine ideological dividing line. Johnson can be touchy on the subject of families because of his own complicated personal life, but mostly he would hesitate before endorsing this because he is genuine libertarian.

Interestingly, though, Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, would sign up to this. Her 2017 manifesto declared:

We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism ...

We know that our responsibility to one another is greater than the rights we hold as individuals. We know that we all have obligations to one another, because that is what community and nation demands.

10) The economy should work for citizens and communities. It is not good enough to just surrender to market forces.

This is another line that could have come straight out of the 2017 Tory manifesto. It won’t be in Johnson’s next one because he is more of an enthusiast for market forces. This was illustrated earlier this year when he told a private meeting of Tory MPs: “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends.” But he was embarrassed by the revelation of his inner Ayn Rand, and as soon as he made the remark, he reportedly tried to withdraw it.

Welsh government criticised over record hospital waiting times

The Labour-led Welsh government has been criticised after new figures revealed record-breaking waits in A&E departments and for treatments.

According to official figures for July and August:

  • There was a record low percentage of patients spending less than four hours in emergency departments and a record high number of patients spending longer than 12 hours.
  • The number of people waiting longer than 36 weeks for treatment was at a record high, though the number waiting less than 26 weeks increased.
  • The percentage of red calls to the ambulance service receiving a response within eight minutes was 57.6% in August 2021, below the 65% target for the 13th consecutive month.

The Welsh government said there had been “unprecedented levels of demand” and pointed out encouraging news on cancer diagnosis and treatment. It said:

Activity levels in cancer services remain high with the second highest number of patients informed they did not have cancer and the third highest number of patients newly diagnosed with cancer starting their first definitive treatment.

Russell George, a Conservative spokesperson, said: “All the wrong records keep getting broken.”

Updated

Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, the Labour thinktank, has published an article for LabourList welcoming Sir Keir Starmer’s The Road Ahead essay (which is published by the Fabians). Here is an extract.

The Road Ahead shows that ‘Starmerism’ is neither Blairite nor Corbynite. There are echoes of many past incarnations of Labour, but this is a plan focused on the future and rooted in the immediate lessons of the pandemic. The ‘contribution society’ offers a patriotism that rejects nationalism, a fair-minded but demanding partnership with business, and a vision of a society where there is opportunity for all and security for all – at home, on the street and in the workplace. It is a roadmap the Labour party can unite around.

Updated

A City Hall source has been in touch to say that when Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, failed to say this morning that he backed Sir Keir Starmer’s plans to change the leadership election rules (see 9.22am), he was not intending to flag up any sort of split. It was just that he did not want to engage because he is focused today on his climate crisis speech, they say.

Details of Keith Vaz's 'unpleasant' bullying that led to him being censured by Commons inquiry

Turning back to the Keith Vaz report (see 11.32am), here is an extract from the document (pdf) summarising the complaints about the former MP.

The complainant was second clerk to the home affairs committee, which was chaired by Vaz. This passage refers to the findings of the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, who carried out the original investigation into the complaints.

The complainant accompanied [Vaz] on a trip to Washington in October 2007. The complainant is from Northern Ireland. As part of conversation with another member during this trip, [Vaz] assumed that the complainant was a Catholic, disparaged her in front of the other member, and remarked that that member would have “locked up” the complainant. The commissioner states that “the complainant reports feeling compelled to set the record straight and confirm [her] mixed religious background.” The commissioner concluded that this breached the bullying and harassment policy since it was mockery or inappropriate joking based on “race, religion or belief” ...

The complainant accompanied [Vaz] on a trip to Russia in 2008. Despite being told by senior officials that he should not do so, [Vaz] took a member of his own staff with him on this trip. [Vaz] told the complainant he had done so because the complainant was not competent. Given the contemporaneous material about the quality of the complainant’s service, the commissioner found no basis for this suggestion, and concluded that it proceeded from personal hostility on the part of [Vaz]. She concluded that it represented “inappropriate comment about someone’s performance” in breach of paragraph 2.11 of the bullying and harassment policy.

In a separate finding, the commissioner accepted that [Vaz] had threatened to take pictures of the complainant drinking alcohol on the Russian trip and to show them to her manager. There was documentary evidence that he did take such photographs. The implication of the threat was that she was liable to drink to excess so as to affect her performance. There was no substance to this. Here too the commissioner concluded that this was a “psychological threat” having the effect of making the complainant “feel vulnerable, upset, undermined, humiliated, denigrated or threatened”.

The commissioner also found that, in the course of this trip, [Vaz] pressed the complainant to disclose her age, this also in a context which meant the request formed part of an unjustified disparagement of her performance.

In a further episode on the same trip, [Vaz] accused the complainant of not knowing how effectively to support the committee because she “wasn’t a mother”. This was an inappropriate comment bearing on the performance of the complainant in breach of paragraph 2.11.

Following the Russia trip, there was an episode where [Vaz] became inappropriately extremely angry with the complainant, after she had advised him to avoid criticism of a judicial decision during a committee session. He accused her of “not living in the real world” and not understanding how members and the house worked. This was a breach of paragraph 2.11.

Following her change of role and her move away from the home affairs committee, [Vaz] engaged in a further conversation with the complainant. He told her that, in relation to a meeting he had had with some prostitutes, they “had reminded him of” the complainant. The commissioner concluded that this episode too, constituted verbal abuse which could fairly be described as “offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour” in breach of paragraph 2.11.

Rising energy bills worse for people living in north because of cold, Kwarteng says

During the urgent question in the Commons earlier Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, conceded that people in the north would be hit hardest by rising fuel prices.

He was responding to a question from Labour’s Rachael Maskell, who represents York Central. She said “the rise in energy prices will disproportionately impact people living in the north because it is colder during the winter in the north” and asked what the government would do to help.

Kwarteng replied:

I think [Maskell] raises a very fair point and clearly, in terms of the gas price, the single most important determinant of it is the weather, and she’s absolutely right.

That’s why we’ve got schemes like the warm home discount and that’s why we’re absolutely focused on protecting the most vulnerable customers, wherever they are in the UK.

Kwasi Kwarteng.
Kwasi Kwarteng. Photograph: House of Commons/PA

'Red Wall' voters will lose faith in PM unless he starts delivering on levelling up 'pretty quickly', says Tory mayor

Boris Johnson has been told that he is going to lose “red wall” supporters unless his government starts delivering for the north of England “pretty quickly”.

The warning came from Ben Houchen, the Conservative Tees Valley mayor who is seen as one of the most influential Tories outside Westminster because of his success at winning over Labour voters. He was first elected in 2017, only narrowly beating his Labour rival with 51.1% of the final vote, but this spring he was re-elected with more than 70% of the vote.

In an interview with Kate Ferguson for the Sun, Houchen said that if Johnson wants to repeat his success in “red wall” seats at the next election, the prime minister will have to “supercharge levelling up”. Houchen explained:

It is absolutely true that people who voted Conservative for the first time did lend us their vote.

So they want to be able to point at something at the next election and say their vote physically delivered it. I think that’s why levelling up in the first instance can be infrastructure — because you can point at train stations, buses, factories.

The other side of that coin is that if we don’t start levelling up, and put some superchargers under it pretty quickly — if there is nothing people can tangibly see at the next election — then in places like Teesside it will go back to that same old belief of, ‘You can never trust a Tory’ and they will vote for somebody else.

Houchen, who is highly admired by Johnson, also said that he thought raising national insurance to fund health and social care, in breach of a manifesto promise, was a mistake. He said:

As we are coming out of Covid I don’t think it is helpful either to businesses or individuals to start raising taxes. I believe that as a politician you need to stand by what you said. The biggest issue for me is that it was very clear in our manifesto there wouldn’t be any tax rises.

Ben Houchen.
Ben Houchen. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Updated

What journalists and commentators are saying about Starmer's long vision for Labour essay

Here is a round-up of what some journalists and commentators are saying about Sir Keir Starmer’s 12,000 word essay on his vision for Labour.

From my colleague Rafael Behr last night

It's a necklace of platitudes strung together with banalities, fastened with cliché.

— Rafael Behr (@rafaelbehr) September 22, 2021

And here is Rafael’s slightly warmer view this morning.

Actually, I have warmed to it a bit on rereading. Identifies the right position and themes. *If* followed up by smart politics, a step forwards.

But the interesting stuff is suffocated in vacuous declarations that no-one could disagree with and entombed in boilerplate.

— Rafael Behr (@rafaelbehr) September 23, 2021

From the FT’s Jim Pickard

main thing you need to know about Keir Starmer's essay is that it has:

- 29 mentions of "business"

- zero mentions of "socialism", "socialist", "nationalise", "public ownership", "comrades", "corbyn", "Momentum"

— Jim Pickard (@PickardJE) September 23, 2021

From ITV’s Robert Peston

The striking thing about @Keir_Starmer’s “The Road Ahead” - his 12k word profession of fundamental beliefs - is that it is not impossible to imagine @BorisJohnson saying almost all of it (apart from the sentence about giving more power to trade unions to recruit and…

— Robert Peston (@Peston) September 23, 2021

organise). Which is not to argue that Starmer’s Labour and Johnson’s Tories would do the same things. But it shows that words are not the dividing line in today’s politics. And that is more of a problem for an opposition than for a government

— Robert Peston (@Peston) September 23, 2021

From the Independent’s Jon Stone

If you've not read Keir Starmer's essay it's basically like if they did a Christmas annual of Labour press releases

— Jon Stone (@joncstone) September 22, 2021

From my colleague Owen Jones

Astonished they thought releasing Keir Starmer's 13,000 word essay was a good idea. It's mesmerisingly bad. Terribly written, a mishmash of clichés, platitudes and banalities.

It does show the promises made in the leadership election were dishonest, but we already knew that.

— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) September 22, 2021

From the Times’ Chris Smyth

The Starmer essay does set out some themes - security, rootedness, partnership between public and private sector - that define him more clearly.

The problem is, there is very little you can't imagine Boris Johnson saying, probably more snappily.

Including the digs at Cameron

— Chris Smyth (@Smyth_Chris) September 23, 2021

That's not to say that they wouldn't put those principles into practice very differently. What a PM's true priorities are often only becomes clear when they have to choose.

But as a pitch it's not clear it answers the question of why vote for one and not the other

— Chris Smyth (@Smyth_Chris) September 23, 2021

From Robert Colville, the Sunday Times columnist and head of the Centre for Policy Studies, a conservative thinktank

The Fabian essay is emblematic of Starmer's leadership so far. Interesting in places and almost certainly the right direction for his party but just kind of... bland.

— Robert Colvile (@rcolvile) September 23, 2021

From David Skelton, head of Renewal, a thinktank set up to broaden the appeal of the Conservative party

Contrarian view: I think the Starmer essay is actually quite good and shows interesting progress. I’m glad we now live in a country where the Labour leader would rather write an essay setting out his views than go on countless marches and rallies with Communist sympathisers.

— David Skelton 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 (@DJSkelton) September 23, 2021

From Prof Jane Green, co-director of the British Election Study

Keir Starmer writes a long essay and Boris Johnson gets attention for a few short words (in French). Which leader is more interesting?

Obviously much more important, strategic reasons for the essay, but Johnson continually achieves the limelight.

— Jane Green (@ProfJaneGreen) September 23, 2021

From Daniel Trilling, a Guardian contributor and author

First impression of the Starmer pamphlet is that it’s that absolute classic Labour thing of pretending to be addressed to one group of people when it’s actually addressed to another.

— Daniel Trilling (@trillingual) September 23, 2021

The start of a thread from Steven Fielding, a professor of political history

The cover shows young and old, together on the same road towards the future. And that, in a nutshell, is how Starmer wants us to see ourselves: a non-polarised Britain, with Labour helping us all get there. pic.twitter.com/3msTTPWAoA

— Steven Fielding (@PolProfSteve) September 23, 2021

From the Economist’s Duncan Weldon

To be fair to Starmer, no Fabian pamphlet written by a Labour leader will ever be quite as a cringe-worthy as Blair’s attempt to make “social-ism” a thing. https://t.co/4nsqqCRdZ6 pic.twitter.com/iy5dLdHqGN

— Duncan Weldon (@DuncanWeldon) September 23, 2021

From HuffPost’s Sophia Sleigh

Methinks the intellectual chatterboxes are making the mistake of thinking Starmer’s essay is anything other than something for intellectuals to chat about.😉

— Sophia Sleigh (@SophiaSleigh) September 23, 2021

And the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush has posted his thoughts the old fashioned way - by actually writing an article. It’s here, and here is an extract.

One thing that is missing from the pamphlet is a sense of who this society’s enemies are. We don’t, as far as Starmer is concerned, live in a contribution society in 2021. Are its opponents solely the Conservatives and austerity, or do they also reside elsewhere, whether in businesses or in households? Part of providing definition to a political project is describing what it’s for, and you can see how Starmer’s “contribution society” can provide Labour with that. And given the state of the British energy and labour markets at the moment, you can see how his riffs on work not rewarding people and the cost of living are going to get a fresh boost from events in the coming weeks and months. But the other part of describing a political project is setting out what it is against, who and what is out of that society’s bounds and who stands in the way of its creation: and that will have to form part of Starmer’s conference speech just as surely as further policy detail will.

Keith Vaz 'should be ashamed' of his 'unpleasant bullying' of Commons official, inquiry concluded

The former Labour MP Keith Vaz engaged in “sustained and unpleasant bullying” when he was chair of the Commons home affairs committee, a parliamentary report said today.

The independent expert panel, the body that now deals with bullying and harassment complaints against MPs, said in a report (pdf) that between April 2007 and October 2008 Vaz breached the Commons’ bullying and harassment policy in his dealings with the committee’s second clerk.

Sir Stephen Irwin, chair of the IEP, said:

The sub-panel [that dealt with the case] found that [Vaz’s] misconduct represented sustained and unpleasant bullying, with a real and enduring psychological impact; and that it led to the complainant leaving her career in the House of Commons. It concluded that if he currently held a pass to the House of Commons as a former member it would have been appropriate to remove it. His eligibility to hold a former member’s pass should never be restored.

[Vaz’s] conduct deserves a clear and formal reprimand. [His] conduct to the complainant was hostile, sustained, harmful and unworthy of a member of parliament. He should be ashamed of his behaviour.

The IEP sub-panel took on the case, after the facts were investigated by the parliamentary commissioner for standards, to determine what sanction should apply. But Vaz refused to engage with the sub-panel, claiming that he was too ill. The IEP said it did not find this claim convincing. It said:

The sub-panel carefully considered claims from Mr Vaz’s medical adviser that he was too ill to participate in the panel’s proceedings. However, following a review of publicly available material demonstrating his ongoing public media and political activity, the sub-panel concluded that it did not doubt that [Vaz] has health problems, but that there was no good basis for concluding that those health problems precluded him from engagement with the panel.

Keith Vaz.
Keith Vaz. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Updated

Starmer's new essay on his vision for Labour won't inspire voters, says John McDonnell

John McDonnell, shadow chancellor when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader, has described Sir Keir Starmer’s long essay about his vision for Labour as uninspiring and “like the Sermon on the Mount written by a focus group”.

Speaking to ITV’s Peston last night, McDonnell said the document did not contain any policy proposals “that are in any way decisive”. He went on:

I can’t see anything in this document that is going to inspire, so again if I was Keir next week I’d get this document out of the way but then I’d start saying: ‘And this is how we make it real. Here’s a few, not all the policy programme, but here are the key policies I want to advocate.’

So I’m hoping he does that, and it will move it on a bit, and in that way we get away from this row over the internal mechanisms of the Labour party, concentrate on the real world issues, and start inspiring people.

John McDonnell on ITV’s Peston last night.
John McDonnell on ITV’s Peston last night. Photograph: Jonathan Hordle/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Police officers are investigating claims that information was leaked from the Scottish government’s inquiry of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond, PA Media reports. PA says:

Police Scotland confirmed it had received two complaints about the “potential unlawful disclosure of information”.

These are now being investigated, it added.

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “We have received two complaints regarding the potential unlawful disclosure of information which are being investigated.”

It comes after the former first minister revealed in August that he had instructed his lawyers to report to the Crown “the outrageous decision of some to publish leaked extracts of the permanent secretary, Lesley Evans’ findings in the original unlawful investigation” in a new book looking at the relationship between Salmond and his successor, Nicola Sturgeon.

Sir Christopher Chope (Con) says the government should cut VAT on energy bills as a temporary measure to help customers.

Kwarteng says that’s a matter for the Treasury.

Robert Halfon (Con) raises the same point. He says Vote Leave promised a VAT cut in the Brexit referendum campaign. And he says Kwarteng can be very “persuasive”.

Kwarteng says his conversations with the chancellor are private.

Updated

In response to a question from Alan Brown, the SNP’s energy spokesman, Kwarteng says he does not accept that the government was ill prepared for this. He says the government had been stress testing the system.

Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, accuses Kwarteng of being complacent.

He says that Kwarteng was warned 18 months ago, when he was energy minister, that there was systematic risk to the energy supply sector.

And he says the government should abandon the universal credit cut.

Kwasi Kwarteng responds to Commons urgent question on energy crisis

In the Commons Kwasi Kwarteng is responding to a Commons urgent question tabled by Labour about the energy crisis.

He starts by saying he made a Commons statement on Monday, and that he was questioned by the business select committee yesterday.

(That’s a way of saying he thinks this session is pointless.)

In a short statement, he sums up what he has said earlier this week: that is is normal for some energy companies to go bust every year, that the government will focus on protecting customers, that there will be no bail-out for companies and that the energy price cap will stay.

Updated

The Office for National Statistics has published figures this morning showing a slight fall in life expectancy for men.

It says that this is the first time a decline like this has happened for about 40 years, but that this may just be a consequence of the Covid crisis.

Explaining the figures, Pamela Cobb, from the Centre for Ageing and Demography at the ONS, said:

Life expectancy has increased in the UK over the last 40 years, albeit at a slower pace in the last decade.

However, the coronavirus pandemic led to a greater number of deaths than normal in 2020. Consequently, in the latest estimates, we see virtually no improvement in life expectancy for women compared to 2015 to 2017 at 82.9 years, while for men life expectancy has fallen back to levels reported for 2012 to 2014, at 79 years. This is the first time we have seen a decline when comparing non-overlapping time periods since the series began in the early 1980s.

These estimates rely on the assumption that current levels of mortality, which are unusually high, will continue for the rest of someone’s life. Once the coronavirus pandemic has ended and its consequences for future mortality are known, it is possible that life expectancy will return to an improving trend in the future.

Life expectancy at birth for men and women
Life expectancy at birth for men and women Photograph: ONS

Prof Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said today that he expects coronavirus to eventually end up being more like a common cold.

Asked if he agreed with Prof Dame Sarah Gilbert, the Oxford scientist who led the team that created the AstraZeneca vaccine, who yesterday said coronavirus would become less virulent until it eventually spread like a seasonal cold, Bell told Times Radio today:

If you look at the trajectory we’re on, we’re a lot better off than we were six months ago.

So the pressure on the NHS is largely abated. If you look at the deaths from Covid, they tend to be very elderly people, and it’s not entirely clear it was Covid that caused all those deaths. So I think we’re over the worst of it now.

And I think what will happen is, there will be quite a lot of background exposure to Delta (variant), we can see the case numbers are quite high, that particularly in people who’ve had two vaccines if they get a bit of breakthrough symptomatology, or not even symptomatology – if they just are asymptomatically infected, that will add to our immunity substantially, so I think we’re headed for the position Sarah describes probably by next spring would be my view.

We have to get over the winter to get there but I think it should be fine.

Updated

Reversing universal credit cut would cost £6bn, says minister

Paul Scully, the small business minister, told Sky News this morning that if the government were to cancel plans to cut universal credit by £20 a week from next month (by ending the temporary Covid uplift), the Treasury would have to raise taxes by £6bn to pay for it. He explained:

If you were to reverse the universal credit as it is, you would have to put up income tax by the equivalent of a penny and 3p on fuel. You have to find £6bn from somewhere.

Starmer fails to get backing of Sadiq Khan over plans to change Labour leadership rules

Good morning. Sir Keir Starmer took a risk earlier this week when he announced plans for significant changes to Labour’s internal rules (covering leadership elections, and other matters) that infuriated the left. Yesterday he discovered that the major unions that fund Labour are not yet backing him, and now he is under pressure to shelve the vote on the proposals planned for the party conference. Here is my colleague Jessica Elgot’s overnight story.

This morning Starmer suffered a further setback when Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, one of the most powerful figures in the party outside Westminster and someone not associated with the Labour left, refused to back the plans. In an interview on the Today programme he was asked three times if he supported what Starmer was doing, and each time he refused to back the leader. The first time he was asked if he agreed with the proposed changes, Khan replied:

I’ve got to be frank; as the mayor of London, internal party rules isn’t at the fore of my mind. I haven’t had a chance to look into the changes being considered.

When it was put to him that it sounded as if he wanted to keep the current leadership election rules, he replied:

I’ve been going to Labour conference every year since I was a boy, and there are always changes in our rules at conference because our conference is the sovereign decision-making body.

And when he was given a third chance to say he supported Starmer on this, he replied:

Well, it’s not at the fore of my mind as mayor. What’s at the fore of my mind is taking bold action to address the twin challenges of air pollution and climate change.

Last night Starmer published a 12,000 word essay setting out his vision for the party. You can read it here, and here is our story about it.

Initial reaction suggests readers have been underwhelmed, but most people will not have had a chance to look at it properly yet. I will post proper reaction and analysis as the day goes on.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The ONS publishes annual life expectancy figures.

9.30am: Stephen Barclay, the new Cabinet Office minister, takes questions in the Commons

11.30am: Downing Street holds its daily lobby briefing.

12pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minster, takes questions in the Scottish parliament.

For the latest Covid developments, do read our global live blog.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com

UPDATE: A City Hall source has been in touch to say that when Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, failed to say that he backed Sir Keir Starmer’s plans to change the leadership election rules (see 9.22am), he was not intending to flag up any sort of split. It was just that he did not want to engage because he is focused today on his climate crisis speech, they say.

Updated

Contributor

Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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