In Brief

Jeremy Corbyn is a 'disaster', says Stephen Hawking

World-renowned physicist calls for Labour Leader to step down 'for the sake of the party'

Stephen Hawking has branded Jeremy Corbyn a "disaster" for the Labour Party and called on him to resign.

Despite their similar stances on issues such as Israel and nuclear disarmament, the celebrated scientist, a lifelong supporter of progressive causes, says voting for Labour under the current leader would be "futile", The Times reports.

He says: "[Corbyn's] heart is in the right place and many of his policies are sound. But he has allowed himself to be portrayed as a left-wing extremist."

Echoing calls from other high-profile Labour voters - and several of Corbyn's own colleagues - Hawking added: "I think he should step down for the sake of the party."

In a rare public interview to coincide with his 75th birthday, the physicist also expressed wider fears for the future of humanity, warning that the increasingly deadly abilities of modern technology may one day turn our primal instincts into our downfall.

Aggression is "hard-wired into our genes" as a survival strategy, he said, and "technology has advanced at such a pace that this aggression may destroy us all", either by nuclear or biological war. "We need to control this inherited instinct by our logic and reason," he said.

Hawking also suggested that some form of "world government" might ultimately be necessarily to respond to the massive challenges presented by global issues such as environmental change, although he acknowledged this could lead to "tyranny".

But he added: "All this may sound a bit doom-laden but I am an optimist. I think the human race will rise to meet these challenges."

Labour 'confident' Jeremy Corbyn's tax return is correct

6 March

Labour says it is "confident" Jeremy Corbyn's tax return for 2015/16 is correct, after it was suggested the party leader had failed to declare all of his income to HMRC.

Corbyn's tax return, which he published on his website yesterday, states he earned £114,342 in the financial year ending last April.

"But the form appeared not to show a payment he was due as leader of the opposition for seven months during the 2015/16 tax year," says The Independent. "Mr Corbyn is entitled to an extra £39,272 a year as leader of the opposition on top of the basic MP salary."

A Labour Party spokesperson said an extra payment of £27,192 is recorded in the tax return under the heading "public office", adding: "We believe in transparency. Those who seek the highest office, along with the very wealthy and powerful, should publish their tax returns."

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, a close Corbyn ally, also defended the leader. "He couldn't possibly be intending to deceive anybody," she BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour

Corbyn, who said it was "right for party leaders to be open and transparent about their tax arrangements", released his return hours after Chancellor Philip Hammond refused to make his own records public.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Hammond said he had "no intention" of publishing his returns. "Just for the record, my tax affairs are all perfectly regular and up to date," he said. "But I think this demonstration politics isn't helping the atmosphere in British politics."

Last week, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said he wanted to force anyone earning more than £1m to publish their tax returns.

"I think openness and transparency is the basis of confidence and trust. And what we've got in society is a lack of trust, in people who make decisions and people of the establishment," he told The Guardian.

"And I think we've got to start rebuilding trust in our society. And on the tax evasion, tax avoidance, it would help on that, certainly."

Labour suffers victory and 'humiliating' defeat in double by-election

24 February

A strong swing towards the Tories in Copeland handed the government an unusual mid-term by-election win last night, taking the shine off Labour's victory in Stoke, where Jeremy Corbyn's party saw off the challenge from Ukip.

"Copeland, a seat on the west Cumbrian coast and a former Labour heartland, turned blue for the first time in more than 80 years following a high stakes race between the governing party and official opposition," The Times reports.

Conservative candidate Trudy Harrison received 13,748 votes, while Labour's Gill Troughton got 11,601. The Lib Dems came third with 2,252 votes, on a turnout of 51 per cent.

Described by Harrison in her victory speech as "a truly historic event", it was the first by-election gain by a governing party since 1982.

Labour held its seat in Stoke-on-Trent Central, however, with Gareth Snell defeating Ukip leader Paul Nuttall by 7,853 votes to 5,233. Conservative Jack Brereton was snapping at Nuttall's heels with 5,154 votes.

Snell said: "Tonight, the people of Stoke-on-Trent have chosen the politics of hope over the politics of fear."

However, the results could see his party chief face renewed leadership questions, with several papers describing Copeland as "humiliating" for Labour.

"The defeat will force some soul-searching about the party's electoral tactics," The Guardian reports.

It adds that Ukip's defeat in Stoke will also leave many questioning Ukip's relevance, while "both results were good news for Theresa May's Conservative party".

Nuttall, who was escorted to his car by police after the defeat, denied he would resign as Ukip leader. "No, I'm only 12 weeks in," he said. "Come on, give me a break".

Stoke and Copeland by-elections: Corbyn's great test

23 February

Voters go to the polls today in two by-elections that are being described as Labour's greatest test yet.

Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland have long returned Labour MPs and "in normal circumstances Labour would expect to hold both easily", says Andrew Sparrow in The Guardian.

"But the relative weakness of Labour has made their opponents competitive in both seats."

The results are being seen as a litmus test for Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, with the campaigns fought against a "backdrop of terrible poll ratings", says the Huffington Post, which quotes an ICM/Guardian survey from Monday putting Labour 18 points behind the Conservatives.

Stoke-on-Trent Central

Labour has held Stoke Central since its creation in 1950, but the city's large support for Brexit in the EU referendum has led the party's campaign chief, Jack Dromey, to try and dampen expectations.

The race was a "three-way marginal", he said, with Labour candidate Gareth Snell under threat from the Conservatives' Jack Brereton and Ukip's Paul Nuttall.

Labour's image in the constituency is in need of serious rehabilitation, according to a focus group of Stoke voters organised by BritainThinks.

"Asked to draw a car that summed up the Labour party, the group produced sketches of clapped-out old bangers, variously on bricks, or in one case with a steering wheel at each end 'because they don't know which way they’re going'," reports The Guardian.

Copeland

Labour's elections coordinator Andrew Gwynne warned Storm Doris could cause problems for his party in Copeland, where the Conservatives pose the biggest threat.

He said: "It's a big challenge. It's a very isolated constituency. If we can get people to come out, we are in with a shout."

A Tory win would "mark a rare by-election gain for a government party", says the Daily Telegraph, "underlining the scale of the task facing Corbyn in his quest for Downing Street".

But there is some hope for Labour, says the New Statesman's Stephen Bush, as the campaign seems to hinge on the NHS.

No change at the top

One Labour source told the Guardian that regardless of the result, they couldn't see today's by-elections leading to change in party leadership.

"As far as the leadership is concerned, if [both Labour candidates win], it will be a sign that the national polls are wrong," the source said. "If they lose, it will be because of the [last summer's] coup. That's the only thing they will hear because that's what their supporters respond to."

Keeping Corbyn in charge of the opposition is a bonus for the Tories, writes Paul Waugh in the Huffington Post.

"No.10 sees this as a win-win by-election day," he adds. "It sees Corbyn as its biggest electoral asset and won't be too gutted if he squeaks home and delays once more any threat to his leadership."

Jeremy Corbyn faces revolt over Article 50 vote

27 January 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing a fresh rebellion after imposing a three-line whip on his MPs in the vote to trigger Article 50.

Hampstead MP Tulip Siddiq, whose constituency voted against Brexit by a margin of 70 to 30, has already quit her position as shadow minister for early years, saying: "I do not support the triggering of Article 50 and cannot reconcile myself to the frontbench position." 

Speaking to Sky News, Corbyn said: "I fully understand the pressures and issues that members are under, those who represent leave constituencies and those who represent remain constituencies."

However, the vote was "clearly a three-line whip" issue, he added.

"It is unclear how strictly Mr Corbyn's team will enforce the whip - with some Labour sources speculating that there could be some flexibility," says The Independent. Typically, any minister or shadow minister who breaks a three-line whip is forced to resign from the front bench.

The decision has thrown the party into "chaos", says the Daily Telegraph, while The Guardian estimates 60 Labour MPs are preparing to defy any order to vote in favour of Article 50.

"Several frontbenchers whose constituencies are in areas that are strongly pro-Remain have publicly said they would also vote against when a bill is introduced," it adds.

Shadow cabinet ministers including Clive Lewis, Jo Stevens, Rachael Maskell and Cat Smith "reportedly argued against a three-line whip", continues the Guardian, "but one source stressed that did not necessarily mean they would rebel or resign". Lewis and Smith have since said they will fall into line.

The government yesterday published its 137-word Brexit bill, which gives Theresa May the power to begin the formal process of exiting the EU.

According to party sources, Labour is planning to table four amendments, one of which will force the Prime Minister to go back to Brussels with her deal if parliament rejects it. The SNP says it plans as many as 50 "serious and substantive" amendments.

Scotland's former first minister Alex Salmond told the BBC the party would fight "tooth and nail" against triggering Article 50, claiming there was "real concern" in the Commons and the Lords about what will happen when there is a parliamentary vote in 18 months' time "if there's no agreement on the terms".

Several MPs have also criticised the government for allocating just five days to get the bill through both houses of parliament and the committee stage.

Chris Leslie MP, a Labour supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said it was "simply unacceptable for ministers to try and railroad this incredibly important law through parliament without sufficient time for proper debate".

He added: "The government had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the courts to bring this bill before parliament and yet they still seem determined to gag parliamentarians as much as possible."

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