Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 21 January 2022

The Week’s daily digest of the news agenda, published at 8am

1

Rebels claim blackmail proof

Conservative rebels accusing Boris Johnson’s team of blackmail and intimidation are considering publishing a secretly recorded conversation with the chief whip to prove it, said The Times. The MPs, known as the pork pie plotters, claim that whips have threatened to withdraw funding from their constituencies and that government aides have released “unsubstantiated claims about their drinking habits and personal lives”. Johnson has said he has seen “no evidence to support” these claims.

2

NHS embroiled in surgery row

NHS bosses and the government are embroiled in a “very tense” behind-the-scenes row over how quickly hospitals in England can be expected to reduce the massive backlog of surgery, reported The Guardian. Boris Johnson’s plan for salvaging his premiership included publishing an “elective recovery plan”, but NHS bosses say the ongoing impact of treating patients sick with Covid, longstanding gaps in their workforce, exhaustion at the frontline and record staff sickness mean they need more time for surgery processes to get back to normal. The backlog currently stands at a record six million patients.

3

Last ditch talks over Ukraine

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are to hold talks in Geneva later today amid mounting fears that Russia could be about to invade Ukraine. The news comes after Washington accused Moscow of recruiting current and former Ukrainian government officials to attempt to take control of Ukraine’s government. As many as 100,000 Russian troops remain at the Ukrainian border, said Politico, despite President Joe Biden and European leaders warning that Russia could face serious consequences in the event of an invasion. 

4

Tinder ‘charges older users more’

Tinder has been accused of discrimination after an investigation found it was charging older users more for its premium services. Which? magazine discovered that over-50s had to pay about 46% more than under-30s for the dating app’s premium service, a difference of £23.19 per year. The Equality and Human Rights Commission described the magazine’s report of “potential discrimination” as “concerning”. Tinder said it offered “discounted subscriptions to younger members”.

5

Pension system ‘shameful shambles’

MPs have concluded that the state pension payment system is not fit for purpose, resulting in the “shameful shambles” of an underpayment scandal that left tens of thousands of pensioners short-changed. The public accounts committee criticised the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for its “complacency” and accused it of not having been “sufficiently transparent”. Last year it was reported that the DWP had underpaid 134,000 mostly female pensioners by a total of more than £1bn of state pension cash that they were entitled to.

6

Trains to reduce ‘tannoy spam’

Rail chiefs will be getting rid of unnecessary announcements to make train journeys quieter. The decision comes after complaints by passengers about “tannoy spam”, including announcements telling travellers to have their tickets ready and to keep the noise down. The Department for Transport will work with passenger groups to decide which announcements can be cut. But the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union has dismissed the department’s proposal, describing it as a “PR stunt by this collapsing government”.

7

Tommy Robinson faces insolvency probe

Tommy Robinson is facing an investigation by an independent insolvency expert who has been appointed to recover an estimated £2m that the far-right activist owes creditors. Although the English Defence League founder declared himself bankrupt last year, the anti-racism campaign group Hope Not Hate believes he has access to assets worth up to an estimated £3m. Robinson’s creditors include HMRC, a former business partner, Barrow-in-Furness borough council and a Syrian refugee schoolboy he lost a libel case to.

8

Teachers defy ministers over masks

Schools are defying Boris Johnson over face masks in the classroom, with more than 100 headteachers saying that they will keep the guidance in place, reported The Daily Telegraph. The heads have written to parents to say that children must continue wearing masks in lessons, despite the government’s statement that “all schools” should scrap face masks so that children can “enjoy a normal experience” in the classroom. Wearing a mask is “a kind and thoughtful approach that supports our school community”, said one Exeter-based headteacher. 

9

Austria approves mandatory vaccine order

Lawmakers in Austria voted to make Covid vaccines mandatory for almost everyone aged 18 and over from 1 February. The law would make Austria the first European country to introduce a mandatory jab. Exceptions would be made for people who are pregnant or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, as well as those who have recently recovered from Covid-19. The bill needs to now pass the upper house and be signed into law by the Austrian president, but these steps are “largely expected to be formalities”, said the BBC.

10

Nestle apologises for KitKat wrappers

Nestle has withdrawn a range of KitKat wrappers featuring Hindu gods after a backlash in India. Objectors argued that the wrappers would eventually be thrown away and end up in drains and dustbins, which would be disrespectful to the gods and the Hindu faith. Nestle said the bars were introduced to “celebrate the culture”, but it issued a rare apology and withdrew the controversial designs. India is “becoming increasingly intolerant to freedom of expression” under the right-wing Hindu BJP ruling party, said The Daily Telegraph.

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