Alliance councillors attacked in their home quit politics
A married couple who are both councillors for the non-partisan Alliance Party have announced their plans to stand down at the end of their current term. Michael and Christine Bower have had two children since first taking office, and claim their primary motivation for quitting the council is to spend more time with them.
Yet personal safety is also likely to be a factor. The couple’s home was attacked by loyalists during the ‘flag protests’ which convulsed Northern Ireland after Belfast City Council voted – with Alliance support – to stop flying the Union Flag 365 days a year.
The party’s representatives were targeted across the six counties, with East Belfast MP Naomi Long receiving death threats, but the direct attack on the Bower’s home stands out as one of the most shocking incidents of political intimidation from the entire period.
Despite that, hopefully the Bower’s public reason for standing down is the real one. It would be a signal failure of the peace process if there was still a place in the United Kingdom where elected politicians could be forced out by mob violence.
Welsh patients ‘told to gain weight’ to receive anti-obesity surgery
“Vast numbers of patients” who would benefit from bariatric surgery are being turned away or being told to gain weight to receive treatment, according to the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society.
Jonathan Barry, a member of the society, claims that the current method taken by the Welsh NHS is focused on waiting until “the horse has bolted”, and that the surgery could be much more effective if at-risk patients are treated whilst they’re younger and in better shape.
At present simply being very overweight is not sufficient to get past the “rationing tool” used to limit access. There must also be related medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or a BMI of 50 per cent (meaning you’re literally double your ideal weight). The result is that in one instance a man weighing 37 stone was denied surgery three times.
A more pro-active approach could help to tackle the province’s dire obesity rates: seven out of ten of the worst areas in the UK for ‘morbid obesity’ are in Wales, and government statistics put 59 per cent of Welsh adults as ‘overweight’.
DUP spell out costs of resistance to benefit reform
DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton says he will have “no choice” but to publish in detail large cuts to public spending in Northern Ireland that will entail if Sinn Fein don’t sign up to benefits reform.
Northern Irish welfare spending is proportionate to England’s. Traditionally this has not been an issue because, despite welfare being devolved to Stormont, Northern Irish politicians have accepted the principle of harmonising welfare policies with those of the mainland. However, there is resistance to introducing Universal Credit.
But if the Assembly cannot agree to a harmonisation package than the UK will simply cut grants to the province by the necessary amount to make up the difference – necessitating cuts across a wide range of public services in the Six Counties to the tune of £1bn over five years.
The Democratic Unionists accuse Sinn Fein of reneging on an agreed deal to introduce the chances in a manageable fashion – but Sinn Fein insist that any deal can only be accepted by their all-Ireland leadership and they never committed to the current proposals.
Salmond reported to HMRC over unpaid internship
In a sign that his commitment to a social-democratic future for Scotland might not extend to the realm of deeds, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has been referred to HM Revenue and Customs over suspicions that he is inappropriately advertising “volunteering” opportunities that entail the workload of a full-time employee.
Campaign group Intern Aware, which campaigns against the “exploitation” of young people through inappropriate or exclusive unpaid positions, claims that the internship – based in Salmond’s constituency office near Aberdeen – might fall foul of laws which limit the work that people classified as ‘volunteers’ can do.
The Nationalists’ political opponents have naturally piled in, although the SNP claim they are providing a short-term internship for a full-time student at Aberdeen, in line with academic internships offered to students by MSPs from other parties.
Curse of the spotlight: NI21 hopeful barred for “right of Hitler” Facebook description
It’s always a problem for parties trying to “break the mould”. You reach out to people who aren’t currently engaged with the system, with the laudable aim of bringing new blood into politics. Then the downside of pitching to people with no experience of politics becomes apparent: inexperienced, ill-disciplined candidates are irresistible targets for the press.
Such was NI21’s fate this week. Local government candidate hopeful Chris Lennox made headlines when he described himself as “to the right of Hitler” in the ‘Political Views’ section of his Facebook profile. (Although Daniel Hannan would like to remind you that that is not particularly far to the right, strictly speaking).
He also mocks Christianity on his Twitter feed – not a smart move in Northern Ireland, by far the most religious province of the UK even setting aside the sharp confessional divisions between its communities.
McCallister claims that Lennox is not a member of the party and that, after checking with McCrea, he won’t be for the foreseeable future. But as minor parties (including NI21, the TUV, UKIP and the NI Conservatives) prepare their candidates for the upcoming elections, it’s a timely reminder of the need for vigilance – even when activists are in short supply.