Connect with us

Politics

Boris Johnson used to be the Teflon man of British politics, brushing off scandals, gaffes and mistakes. Not any more – CNN

Published

 on


Now Johnson’s plans appear ruined. He’d wanted to use his personal enthusiasm for Brexit to instil a fresh sense of optimism that the UK’s future was brighter outside the European Union. Free from the Brussels bureaucracy, Johnson’s government vowed to address the UK’s socio-economic imbalance that in some sense led to Brexit by “leveling up” deprived areas. He would also seek to strengthen the bond between the four nations of the UK, which had been stretched to near-breaking point amid the bitterness following the 2016 referendum. In short, the man who led the campaign that caused so much division was on a charm offensive to heal the country.
However, 10 months on, his government is short on resources and losing good will. Johnson’s opponents point to numerous errors made early in the pandemic over testing and confusing messaging over lockdowns, the highest death count in Europe and worst recession of any major economy as evidence of his failures. Worse, members of his own party fear that his lack of attention to detail and instinct for combative politics is causing a shift in the PM’s public perception: From affable optimist to incompetent bully who is hopelessly out of his depth. And they worry what long-term damage this might do both to Johnson’s personal mission and the brand of the Conservative party writ large.
One former Conservative cabinet minister and colleague of Johnson, who declined to be named, agreed with this analysis. “To deal with a crisis like this, you need public confidence and you need different bits of the state working together as effectively as possible,” the politician said. “Instead, they have managed to enrage the leadership in Scotland and Wales while picking largely pointless fights with mayors of major cities where Conservatives historically don’t do well. It’s a very strange way of going about uniting the country.”
Over the past week, Johnson has been in a protracted and public spat with the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. Johnson wanted the city to enter the UK’s highest tier of Covid restrictions. Burnham didn’t want this to happen without more financial support from the central government. The whole thing ended in a complete mess, as Johnson’s government didn’t make clear after talks collapsed that the money deemed insufficient by Burnham was still on the table. This led to a televised press conference in which Burnham supposedly found out live on air that the government had withdrawn their offer of £60 million ($78 million) for the city, instead only offering £22 million.
The government claims the whole thing was a set up by Burnham and in fact the minister responsible had talked with him before the press conference.
A government minister told CNN that there is “zero evidence that the PM picked a fight with Burnham,” adding that a central government “naturally has to balance economic and public health issues while local politicians have a much narrower focus,” implying Burnham was playing politics with Johnson.
However, worryingly for Johnson, his personal approval ratings and trust in his government have plummeted sufficiently since the crisis that the truth doesn’t entirely matter.
“When you look at Boris’s personal brand you see dramatic drop-offs in people who think he is likeable and trustworthy since the start of the pandemic. He now lags behind Keir Starmer (leader of the opposition Labour party) on almost all of those metrics,” says Chris Curtis, Political Research Manager at pollster YouGov.
This dip in trust is particularly toxic for Johnson when you combine it with the reputation Conservatives have in parts of the country that historically vote Labour and Johnson was able to pick up seats in last December’s election — the so-called Red Wall.
This reputation was not helped when Johnson found himself in round two of a fight with popular Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford over providing meals for the poorest children during the Christmas holidays this year. On Wednesday night, Johnson directed his party to vote against the proposal.
“People will remember in six or 12 months that the government didn’t seem to care if children went hungry over Christmas during an economic crisis. It costs relatively little to fund compared to other government spending this year,” says Lauren McEvatt, former special adviser to a previous Conservative administration. “It feeds into a narrative which still exists that Conservatives ultimately don’t care as much about poor people.”
What’s perplexed many observers over the Rashford affair is that Johnson had to U-turn earlier this year on exactly the same matter for summer holidays. “This government is like that GIF where Sideshow Bob keeps stepping on the same rakes and whacking himself in the face,” says Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester.
All of which only goes to reopen the question of government competence. “From the start, this government set out to hyper-centralize everything from a small team in Downing Street in order to have a tight grip on the Johnson project,” says a senior Conservative lawmaker. “That means a small group of people are making decisions in areas they might not be experts. That’s hard enough at the best of times, but during a crisis which affects the whole country and is constantly changing, it’s virtually impossible.”
The lawmaker goes on to explain that he thinks they “rely too much on focus groups” in order to appeal to public opinion. “The trouble is, focus groups don’t have much foresight. Something might be very popular one day but six months down the line look like a massive mistake. Normal practice in government is to find the right policy and sell it to the public, not the other way around.”
Numerous current and former Downing Street insiders told CNN that while it was true this government did run a lot of focus groups and deemed them to be very important, opinion was divided on their precise influence over policy making. Some said that decisions were made on the basis of focus groups; some said they helped shape how the government would sell policy to the public; some claimed it had led to major policy U-turns, including over Rashford’s summer campaign. A government official denied this claim.
Boris Johnson visits the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust  on July 13, 2020 in London.
Whatever the truth, it is hard to deny that Johnson’s credibility has taken a significant hit this year. Many point to a scandal surrounding his most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, as the worst moment of the year. Cummings, having displayed symptoms for Covid, decided to drive hundreds of miles from his home in London when government advice clearly stated that he should self-isolate. Cummings claimed that he did so to provide childcare for his young son.
“They could have killed that story in 48 hours if they said he was desperately worried about his baby and now realizes it was wrong,” says the former cabinet minister. Instead, Cummings gave a bizarre press conference where he defended not only his initial trip, but a further outing in his car which he claimed to merely be testing his eyesight. “The refusal to show any kind of contrition led to a big change of mood. That episode symbolizes what has been wrong about the approach,” the former minister adds.
Whether that’s fair or not, it’s certainly possible to argue the case that the Cummings scandal had three key ingredients: Cock-up; lack of apology; aggressive response. It is also possible to superimpose this playbook onto both the responses to Burnham and Rashford. In the case of the latter, Johnson was not helped by members of his own party implying that some poor parents are feckless and not interested in feeding their children and that children have always gone hungry anyway.
All of this leaves Johnson vulnerable to those who want to paint him as a mean-spirited bully running a shambolic government. “Fairly or unfairly, it does play to the stereotype of Conservatives as not interested in the poor and not interested in the north. This, unfortunately, does really damage his agenda for leveling up, cementing the red wall and defending the union,” says the former minister.
It’s worth pointing out that as things stand, Johnson’s party is still ahead in the polls. A government minister puts this down to the fact that despite all the headlines, Johnson’s real actions present an alternative narrative that voters understand. “If you move away from Covid, all the big announcements we have made are focused on investments in skills, and we didn’t go for austerity 2.0 despite massive pressure. All of these things suggest that leveling up is still the PM’s top priority,” the minister said.
However, despite those polls, Johnson only won his majority last December and that lead has been slipping. And as the crisis continues, many of his previous supporters are increasingly skeptical that Boris Johnson was ever really the man to unite a country divided by political chaos for which he was largely responsible.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Politics

Even as political relations worsen, Canada-China trade thrives – The Globe and Mail

Published

 on


A Helijet helicopter flies past gantry cranes and shipping containers at the Port of Vancouver while landing on the harbour in Vancouver, on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Canada’s business with China appears to be thriving during the pandemic even as diplomatic relations remain in a deep freeze.

Exports to China increased close to 10 per cent in the first seven months of the COVID-19 pandemic over the same period a year previous, according to new analysis from the Canadian International Development Platform (CIDP), which is part of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.

This growth occurred even as exports, by value, to many other traditional customers sunk during the pandemic, which hit Canada in March.

Story continues below advertisement

Overall, Canadian exports fell nearly 20 per cent in the same March to September period, CIDP’s analysis of Statistics Canada data shows. For instance, exports to the United States declined 22 per cent in this period.

Exports to China for the March to September period exceeded $14.7-billion, compared with $13.4-billion in 2019.

Aniket Bhushan, an adjunct research professor at the Norman Paterson School, said one of the reasons exports to China are growing is that sales are rebounding from a bad year in 2019 when China punished Canada for arresting Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. China blocked sales of pork and beef for several months in 2019.

Still, Prof. Bhushan said, Canadian exports to China appear to be on track to exceed 2018 levels by the end of this year.

Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said Canadian exports to China are up in 2020 because China’s economy is one of the few that will grow this year. The country, where COVID-19 first appeared, recovered much more quickly than most and is expected to expand economic output by a modest 2.1 per cent this year.

Diplomatic relations between China and Canada have steadily eroded since late 2018 when Canada arrested Ms. Meng on a U.S. extradition request and Beijing locked up two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called an effort to exert “political pressure.” Beijing applied, and then lifted, restrictions barring imports of Canadian pork and beef, while Canada’s two biggest exporters of canola seed remain barred from shipping to the Chinese market.

In October, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland denounced China’s ambassador to Canada for threatening Canadians living in Hong Kong, saying envoy Cong Peiwu overstepped his diplomatic role when he warned granting asylum to pro-democracy dissidents could jeopardize the “health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians living in the Asian city. Mr. Cong was also reprimanded by the Global Affairs department.

Story continues below advertisement

Trade data analyzed by CIDP show rising exports to China include ores, cereal grains such as wheat, meat, animal or vegetable fats, and vegetables. Statistics compiled by the federal agriculture and agri-food department show that in September, for instance, Canada exported 61,570 metric tonnes of pork to China compared with 346 tonnes in September, 2019.

Mr. Beatty, whose organization represents 200,000 Canadian businesses, said the political differences between Ottawa and Beijing should not be allowed to “contaminate our commercial relationships.” He said it “makes no sense for the Chinese to use imports of Canadian agri-food as a weapon” and that “politicizing trade” destroys the benefits of trade.

“Half a century ago, Canada supplied China with wheat when other countries refused to sell to them. It was the right decision, and both Canadian farmers and the Chinese people benefited,” he said.

Gordon Houlden, director of the University of Alberta’s China Institute, suggested that China is being pragmatic in dealing with Canada for economic and political reasons.

“I think there may be a desire not to make things worse on the political side because taking the two Canadians has not worked out and maybe there is a desire not to add economic pressure to the equation,” he said.

In a recent report, the China Institute documented how China is continuing to buy Canadian agricultural goods at a solid pace.

Story continues below advertisement

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said that aside from arresting Ms. Meng – who is fighting extradition to the U.S. in a B.C. court – Ottawa has avoided taking significant measures that might antagonize Beijing.

By comparison, Australia has faced an increasing list of trade reprisals from China after challenging China in ways Canada hasn’t. Australia has banned Huawei from 5G networks, called for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, and led a pushback against authoritarian states by enacting a law to monitor agents acting for foreign governments.

Prof. Houlden said it would be unwise for Canada to try to decouple its trade with China. He added that trade accounts for 64 per cent of Canada’s GDP, compared with 24 per cent for the U.S. and 37 per cent for China.

“We are far more export dependent than China and we can’t maintain our prosperity without that, so [the] idea that we can’t or shouldn’t sell to China is not sustainable,” he added.

While Canadian canola seed exports continue to face targeted restrictions from Beijing, the China Institute report said 2020 has been marked by relative gains in both export value and tonnage. The cumulative value of canola seed exports to China has risen by 52 per cent on a year-to-date basis to $976-million. That’s still far below the $2.7-billion in canola seed Canada exported in 2018, however.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Politics

Indian politicians slam Trudeau for 'unwelcome' remarks on farmers' protest – CTV News

Published

 on


TORONTO —
Politicians in India are slamming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for wading into the escalating farmers’ protests in their country.

Tens of thousands of Indian farmers have swarmed India’s capital New Delhi in protest of laws passed back in September which the farmers believe will allow corporations to exploit agricultural workers.

The farmers have been met with tear gas and water cannons upon arriving In New Delhi, but have indicated that they intend to stay in the regions for weeks if necessary.

Trudeau weighed in Monday during a virtual celebration for Guru Nanak Dev Ji Gurpurab, a festival to mark the 551st birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

“The situation is concerning and we’re all very worried about families and friends,” Trudeau said during video conference, which was later tweeted by the World Sikh Organization.

“Canada will also be there to defend the rights of peaceful protests. We believe in the importance of dialogue and that’s why we’ve reached out through multiple means directly to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the new laws give farmers more autonomy to set their own prices and the ability to sell their products directly to businesses.

Both NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and British Columbia Premier John Horgan have previously issued statements in support of the Indian farmers, though Trudeau is believed to be the first world leader to make a public statement.

Trudeau’s comments were met with harsh criticism from Indian politicians on both sides of the debate. In a statement, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava called the comments “ill-informed.”

“Such comments are unwarranted, especially when pertaining to the internal affairs of a democratic country,” the statement read. “It is also best that diplomatic conversations are not misrepresented for political purposes.”

Priyanka Chaturvedi, an Indian MP and deputy leader for Shiv Sena, a right-wing regional party, tweeted that she is “touched” by Trudeau’s concern, but “India’s internal issue is not fodder for another nation’s politics.”

In an opinion piece on the New Delhi Television website, Chaturvedi called it “unfortunate” that Trudeau is using “India’s internal issue to further his own place in his nation’s politics.”

“In international relations, there are courtesies extended to not comment on internal affairs of a nation, India has always extended it to other nations, we expect the same to be extended to India,” Chaturvedi wrote in the article.

Chaturvedi did add that if the Indian government continues to ignore the protests, the country will open itself up to commentary from other nations.

Raghav Chadha, a spokesperson for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the ruling party in the New Delhi region, echoed Chaturvedi’s comments.

“While we urge (Bharatiya Janata Party) Govt to immediately resolve & accede to farmers’ demands, this remains an internal matter of India,” he wrote in the tweet. “AAP believes interference or commentary from elected heads of other countries are unsolicited & unwelcome. India is capable of handling its own domestic matters.”

With files from The Associated Press

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Politics

Justice Department investigating potential presidential pardon bribery scheme, court records reveal – CNN

Published

 on


The case is the latest legal twist in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration after several of his top advisers have been convicted of federal criminal charges and as the possibility rises of Trump giving pardons to those who’ve been loyal to him.
The disclosure is in 20 pages of partially redacted documents made public by the DC District Court on Tuesday afternoon. The records show Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s review in August of a request from prosecutors to access documents obtained in a search as part of a bribery-for-pardon investigation.
The filings don’t reveal a timeline of the alleged scheme, or any names of people potentially involved, except that communications between people including at least one lawyer were seized from an office that was raided sometime before the end of this summer.
No one appears to have been publicly charged with a related crime to date.
The White House declined to comment on the court filing. CNN has previously reported that associates of the President are making appeals to him in the hopes of obtaining pardons before he leaves office. There is no indication that any of those associates are being investigated by DOJ in relation to Tuesday’s filing.
A Justice Department official told CNN that “no government official was or is currently a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in this filing.”
According to the court records, at the end of this summer, a filter team, used to make sure prosecutors don’t receive tainted evidence that should have been kept from them because it was privileged, had more than 50 digital devices including iPhones, iPads, laptops, thumb drives and computer drives after investigators raided the unidentified offices.
Prosecutors told the court they wanted permission to the filter team’s holdings. The prosecutors believed the devices revealed emails that showed allegedly criminal activity, including a “secret lobbying scheme” and a bribery conspiracy that offered “a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence” for a convicted defendant whose name is redacted, according to the redacted documents.
Communications between attorneys and clients are typically privileged and kept from prosecutors as they build their cases, but in this situation, Howell allowed the prosecutors access. Attorney-client communications are not protected as privileged under the law when there is discussion of a crime, among other exceptions.
“The political strategy to obtain a presidential pardon was ‘parallel’ to and distinct from [redacted]’s role as an attorney-advocate for [redacted name],” Howell wrote in her court order.
The grand jury investigation also appears to relate to unnamed people acting as unregistered “lobbyists to senior White House officials” as they sought to secure a pardon and use an intermediary to send a bribe, the unsealed court records say.
Prosecutors hadn’t provided evidence to the judge, however, of any direct payment, and instead showed evidence that a person was seeking clemency because of past and future political contributions.
The investigators indicated in court that they intended to “confront” three people with the communications and complete their investigation.
Over the last week, the Justice Department told Howell it wanted to keep filings related to the matter confidential in court, because “individuals and conduct” hadn’t yet been charged.
Trump has granted 29 pardons and commuted 16 people’s sentences during his presidency, according to the US Pardon Attorney’s office. Several of those have gone to people close to the President or whose names would make a splash — including the 19th Century suffragist Susan B. Anthony, the former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Bush-era adviser Scooter Libby and longtime Republican political adviser Roger Stone, who lied to Congress to protect Trump’s efforts in 2016.
Just last week, Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI, undisclosed lobbying for Turkey and the waterfront of potential related crimes that Flynn could have faced in the future.
This story has been updated with additional information.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending