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‘A growing divide’: Leicester East faces potential loss of second Labour MP

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Leicester

‘A growing divide’: Leicester East faces potential loss of second Labour MP

The constituents of Leicester East have become accustomed to seeing their local MP in the news. Often for all the wrong reasons.

The former Labour MP Keith Vaz, who held the seat for 32 years, stepped down after he was caught offering to buy class A drugs for sex workers, and has subsequently been found to have bullied a parliamentary staffer.

Now his successor, Claudia Webbe, elected in 2019, has been found guilty of harassment, including a threat to use acid against a female friend of a partner, and is facing calls to resign.

Despite support for the former Jeremy Corbyn ally appearing to drain away on the party’s left and among constituents, no one is enthused by the idea of a byelection.

Webbe, who will be sentenced on 4 November, has insisted upon her innocence and intends to appeal. But the likelihood of her being forced from office increased when she was warned that she could face prison. Under parliamentary rules, any custodial sentence that is not overturned will lead to a recall petition. If 10% of the electorate then vote for Webbe to be recalled, there will be a byelection.

“I’m glad that it’s come to light, and it goes to show it doesn’t matter who you are or what position of power you’re in: harassment isn’t tolerated,” said Aman Singh Thind, 24, from his family’s online clothing retail business in the constituency. He thinks Webbe should step down.

“Even if somebody else comes into her position, this has all just shown you can’t judge somebody by a few posters and pictures,” said a business owner on Green Lane Road who, like many in the area, was wary of giving her name. “Someone in that position has to be respectable; they’re working for the community. But as we’ve seen, it’s hard to judge someone’s character.”

Webbe won her seat with a majority of 6,019, down from Vaz’s more than 22,000 two years earlier. The Conservatives’ vote share increased from 24.2% in 2017 to 38.6% last time. “Leicester has generally been quite Labour-heavy for years, but I think there’s a growing divide. I think Labour would probably stay in though,” said Thind.

Vaz, a former minister and Labour fixer, remains a party member and has many supporters among the local party and its constituents. His Labour opponents fear he may yet have a significant hand in choosing any future byelection candidate because of an obscure rule change at this year’s party conference.

The new rule, introduced by card vote 15, means byelection candidates will be chosen by a five-member panel, three of whom will be selected by the constituency party executive.

One local party source said: “It is well known that Keith and his allies have great influence over Leicester East CLP [constituency Labour party]. This rule change effectively allows them to choose the next Labour candidate, if, as expected, Claudia is forced out.”

Party activists said half a dozen names of potential candidates had been raised locally, including Vaz himself, although last month he told the Guardian he would not stand again. Labour and Vaz have been approached for a comment.

The potential loss of a second Labour MP after serious allegations could encourage Tory supporters. Outside Webbe’s constituency office, 64-year-old Ellen Anderson said she would probably vote Conservative. “It wasn’t worth voting in Leicester when Keith Vaz was around; unless you were a Labour voter it was a waste of time. It’s different now,” she said.

Bernadette Martin, 60, said she voted Labour for the first time in 2019 because Vaz had finally left office.

Webbe’s seat is on the outskirts of Leicester’s centre, home to many of the city’s garment factories. According to the 2011 census, two-thirds of the population were minority ethnic and 48.5% of people described themselves as Asian, a third of whom were Hindu.

Poverty is the area is high, with 42% of children living below the poverty line. In the area to the west of Spinney Hill Park, this rises to 51%. “We’ve got to think about our kids’ futures. A lot of people around here still don’t get proper wages; where I used to work I never got a proper minimum wage,” said one woman, who asked to remain anonymous, as she sat in the park.

“I think a lot of people voted Conservative [across the UK] thinking they’d do something good, but that hasn’t happened. I’ve got my mother-in-law living with me and she’s over 85, she’s always cold but I’m scared to turn the heating up as we have to pay the bills. We need someone who really understands what is happening to people in Leicester,” she said.

Support for Webbe among the left in Leicester’s Labour party is ebbing away. Helen Lentell, a local activist who campaigned for Webbe’s victory in 2019, said: “I feel solidarity with Claudia as a person and she has been a good MP. But I cannot support someone who can make threats like that against another woman.”

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

The head of the United Nations warned Friday that the world faces “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food around the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”

Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertilizer and energy prices.

“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”

Guterres said U.N. negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.

He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.

The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable.”

Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.

She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.

“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.

“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Local and federal highways in the North-west have become vulnerable as bandits continue to ambush and abduct travellers.

The gunmen who abducted 29 people returning to Zamfara State from Sokoto State where they had gone to attend the wedding of colleagues have released them after the payment of an unspecified ransom.

The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.

Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.

One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.

Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”

“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.

From N5m to N700,000

A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.

“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.

When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.

“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.

The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.

They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.

The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.

The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.

Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.

Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.

Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

A motion seeking the intervention of the House of Representatives in the conflict between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, and Justices of the Supreme Court, over issues bordering on welfare and working conditions suffered a setback on Thursday.

While the House called for a general review of salaries and allowances of all political office holders and public servants, the members were divided over which committees should handle the task.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, had moved a motion to seek the intervention of the chamber in the crisis rocking the apex court and better welfare package for judicial officers across the courts.

Luke, who moved the motion titled, ‘Need to Address the Deteriorating Working Conditions of Judicial Officers,’ prayed the House to urge the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to upwardly review the remuneration of judicial officers in line with present economic realities.

The lawmaker prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocation of the judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year and provide special intervention funds for the development of the arm

He further prayed the House to mandate the Committee on Judiciary to ensure compliance and report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

While the lawmakers were making amendments to the prayers, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, called for an upward review of the welfare package of all public office holders.

Wase, who stated that he appreciated the memo from the Justices to the CJN, noted that only the RMAFC had the responsibility to review remuneration of government officials.

The Deputy Speaker made reference to a part of the motion that read, ‘The remuneration of judicial officers was last reviewed in 2008 by the RMAFC when the official exchange rate was N117.74 to $1, whereas the naira has considerably depreciated.’

Wase partly said, “I think this particular element does not affect just judicial officers, maybe because they cried out now. I don’t think it is right that we have to wait every time until people write letters of complaints and there is protest before we begin to do the right thing.”

Rephrasing Wase’s proposed amendment, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The DSP’s amendment is that we should not isolate the Judiciary and all those enumerated constitutional bodies and public office holders. They should be reviewed; a comprehensive review based on all the things that Hon Luke said – the exchange rates and this and that.”

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