Tuesday briefing: Queen’s speech courts Tory north

·10-min read
Photograph: Aaron Chown/AFP/Getty Images
Photograph: Aaron Chown/AFP/Getty Images

Top story: Fears social care will miss out

Hello, I’m Warren Murray introducing today’s big stories.

Ministers are to unveil a legislative programme today aimed at the Conservative government’s new electoral strongholds in northern England and the Midlands. The Queen’s speech will focus on adult education and home ownership and feature proposals for mandatory voter ID, which have been likened to Republican-style voter suppression in the US. Usually the Queen delivers the speech to a crammed House of Lords but this time the chamber will be restricted to 74 Covid-tested people.

Downing Street has trailed a bill pushing through previously announced plans to boost adult education and training, including a transformation of the student loan system into one usable for any university or college, and at any point in someone’s career. David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that while he welcomed “an important step on the journey to ending the snobbery around technical and vocational education”, there was no mention of finance so people could support themselves. “It will only work if people can afford to live whilst studying through a mixture of loans, grants and welfare support,” he said. “Without this, many simply won’t be able to afford it.”

Another plan will pave the way to outlaw conversion practices targeting LGBT people. And there are also hopes the speech will deliver on a Tory promise that up to three million Britons living overseas for more than 15 years could get the right to vote in British elections. One element likely to be largely missing is a plan to reorganise adult social care, despite Johnson having promised it in his first speech as prime minister.

Watch: In Full - The Queen's Speech

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Julia James murder charge – A man has been charged with the murder of PCSO Julia James, whose body was found in Akholt Wood, near her home in Snowdown, Kent, on 27 April. Callum Wheeler, 21, from Aylesham, was charged with the murder of James, Kent police said on Monday evening. According to a statement by police, officers from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate arrested the suspect on Friday, andthe Crown Prosecution Service authorised a charge of murder on Monday. Large numbers of police, from several forces, were in Aylesham on Monday as the investigation into her death continued. Wheeler is due to appear via video link at Medway magistrates court today. James, 53, who was described as “fiercely loyal” by her family, died from severe head injuries while out walking her dog. She was not in police uniform. 

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End to restrictions welcomed with open arms – Lockdown restrictions will be further eased on schedule from 17 May in England. Some main points: people will be able to meet indoors in groups of up to six or as two households, or outdoors in groups of up to 30 people, and yes, you can hug outdoors (actually, you always could), though the government still urges caution. Pubs, bars and restaurants can reopen indoors. Hotels, hostels and B&Bs in the UK will allow overnight stays in groups of up to six people or two households. People will also be able to travel to a small number of countries on the green list and will not have to quarantine on return – dependent, though, on whether those countries are accepting visitors, which is a significant caveat because places like Australia are not. Read a more detailed explanation here. In India, a usually rare though often deadly fungal infection that attacks the brain is worsening the Covid crisis. More coronavirus news at our live blog.

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Israel answers Hamas rockets with airstrikes – Twenty-four people, including nine children, have died in Gaza, the enclave’s health ministry has announced, following intense all-night airstrikes from the Israeli military, which accused Palestinian militants of launching more than 200 rockets. Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians escalated dramatically on Monday as militant groups in Gaza fired rockets into Israel, which responded with strikes on the Palestinian coastal territory following a police raid on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem that left hundreds injured.

 The rocket attacks were launched minutes after the passing of a Hamas-issued ultimatum for Israel to withdraw security forces from both the Jerusalem compound that is home to the al-Aqsa mosque and the Old City’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Anger had been growing for weeks among Palestinians before a now-delayed Israeli court ruling on whether authorities were able to evict dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and give their homes to Jewish settlers.

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Sad goodbye to Thames whale – The baby minke whale that was found stuck at Richmond lock in London had to be put down by vets on Monday evening. The whale was freed on Sunday, only to escape the rescue raft and get stuck again in vines at Teddington weir. It was the furthest up the Thames a whale had ever gone, according to British Divers Marine Life Rescue. “The last 45 minutes we were with the whale its condition was deteriorating, its breathing wasn’t right and it wouldn’t have survived much longer,” said Julia Cable from the BDMLR. “The vets said it was clearly suffering and that it was the right decision.”

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Oxford makes diversity gains – The University of Oxford says it has almost doubled the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds from 8.2% to 15.9% over the past five years. For 2020-21 the university also recruited record numbers of state school-educated students (68.4% of the total, a rise of 18% over five years), black, Asian and minority ethnic students (23.6%, a 50% increase) and students with disabilities (10.4%, a 44% rise), according to its annual admissions report. The university has a target to boost its undergraduate intake from underrepresented backgrounds from 15% to 25% by 2023.

Today in Focus podcast: Aftermath of post office scandal

Janet Skinner was jailed for false accounting after being wrongfully accused by her employer, the Post Office, of responsibility for the loss of more than £59,000. Now, with her conviction quashed, she and others are demanding answers.

Lunchtime read: Change rings hollow for bell factory

Whitechapel Bell Foundry dates back to 1570, and was the factory in which Big Ben and the Liberty Bell were made. But the problem with bells, from the perspective of those who make them, is that they last too long – more or less forever. “If General Motors made cars that lasted 400 years, I don’t think General Motors would be anything like it is today,” says the foundry’s former owner Alan Hughes.

Peter Scott, a senior bell hanger for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, manoeuvres a bell into the church of St Magnus the Martyr on 2 March 2009 in London.
Peter Scott, a senior bell hanger for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, manoeuvres a bell into the church of St Magnus the Martyr on 2 March 2009 in London. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The factory shut in 2017 and was bought by a US venture capital firm, amid proposals to turn it into a boutique hotel. A fight for its future has been raging ever since. The final decision now rests with the secretary of state for communities and local government, Robert Jenrick, and is expected in the coming week.

Sport

In an exclusive interview, Sir Alex Ferguson and his son Jason reflect on the brain haemorrhage that nearly killed the legendary manager and the film they have just made, his upbringing in Scotland, the lows and highs at Manchester United, his admiration for Steven Gerrard … and that Champions League final. England players are likely to be ruled out of the Indian Premier League’s mooted resumption later this year following an insistence from Ashley Giles, their team director, that international cricket now takes priority. Chelsea Women are closing in on a historic quadruple but it has taken a remarkable rebuild to go from also-rans to all-conquerors. Bob Baffert, whose horse faces disqualification from the Kentucky Derby after a failed drugs test, has blamed the situation on “cancel culture”.

Ashley Westwood and Chris Wood scored in Burnley’s 2-0 win at Craven Cottage, which confirmed Fulham’s relegation from the Premier League. The Rugby Football Union is hopeful Twickenham will be 50% full for England’s summer Tests against the USA and Canada in July after confirming the decision to switch the proposed tour of North America to home soil. Wembley and Lisbon are being considered as options for the Champions League final as negotiations continue over moving the showpiece match from Istanbul. And Taco van der Hoorn took a remarkable solo victory from the breakaway as Filippo Ganna retained the pink jersey on stage three of the Giro d’Italia.

Business

Store closures and job losses still threaten despite the easing of lockdown restrictions bringing some recovery, the British Retail Consortium has warned. Its monthly update reports that in the final three weeks of April non-food sales were up by about 25% compared with March when restrictions were tighter. A separate report from Barclaycard said spending and confidence were both up but a full recovery in hospitality would be delayed until bars and restaurants were able to take customers inside (watch this space, then).

Shares have dropped in Asia-Pacific markets after selling of several big tech companies pulled US benchmarks lower. Japan’s Nikkei 225 sank 2.8% and Hong Kong lost 2.4% early today. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225, the Hang Seng, Shanghai and Seoul’s Kospi also slipped. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 1.1% with the government due to release a big-spending Covid budget. The FTSE is signalling a 1.3% drop at the open. For a pound you can have $1.412 or €1.163 this morning.

Watch: What are SPACs?

The papers

The Guardian print edition leads today with “Rayner: Labour has talked down to voters for too long”. In an article for the Guardian, the deputy leader said Labour would invest tens of billions of pounds in green industries to boost jobs in areas where manufacturing has declined – an answer to critics who say the party has offered few bold new policies. After a bruising weekend battle with Keir Starmer over a planned reshuffle, Rayner said the party must speak to the people on minimum-wage jobs with whom she grew up. Also on the front: many test-and-trace workers are being paid through opaque small companies that experts fear could be defrauding the Treasury via notorious “mini umbrella company” (MUC) tax schemes.

“Threesy does it” says the Metro, referencing the lowering of England’s Covid restrictions to level three. “It’s up to all of us to exercise common sense” says the Telegraph – sound advice pandemic or no pandemic, really. The Express has “Free at last! But let’s use British common sense”. It will certainly be interesting to see how the papers rate people’s adherence to common sense once the shields are lowered on the 17th. The i starts a countdown: “Six days until you can hug your family”. Tomorrow will it be “Five days until …”? Probably not.

The Mail has “PM: the end is now in sight” – no, not of his prime ministership but of lockdown – as an “upbeat Boris” buoys us with news of “ZERO deaths in England … no masks in schools” and other positive signs. The Sun shows four suggestively positioned feet poking out from the end of a duvet with the headline “YES!” saying “Lovers can stay night at last” – also you can “Drink inside pub, go out for a meal” (maybe beforehand). The Financial Times leads with “Record iron ore price signals raw material boom as economies surge” and a picture story on the clashes in Jerusalem. “We’re still waiting, prime minister” – the Mirror interviews a wife nursing her dying husband and says Boris Johnson has not made good on a 22-month-old promise to fix social care.

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