Key events

Keir Starmer has held a meeting with Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach (Irish PM), at Davos this morning. According to a readout of the meeting from the Labour party, Starmer and Varadkar “discussed the importance of strengthening British-Irish relations, their mutual commitment to that enduring relationship, and talked about areas both countries could work together on in the future”.

They also talked about the need “to proceed at pace in finding agreement over the Northern Ireland protocol,” Labour said.

Rosie Duffield MP says being ‘ostracised’ by Labour over gender-critical views reminds her of being in ‘abusive relationship’

The Labour MP Rosie Duffield has described belonging to the party as like being in an “abusive relationship” because her gender-critical views have made her feel “ostracised”.

In an article for UnHerd, she also suggests that she will find it hard to support the party at the next election – suggesting she might not stand again as a candidate.

Duffield achieved a surprise win in 2017 when she was elected MP for Canterbury, a seat which had mostly elected Tories for almost 200 years. At the 2019 election she increased her majority from 187 to 1,836.

But in her UnHerd article she describes how she has gone from being seen as an asset to the party to a liability because of her outspoken gender-critical views. Her concern about trans women being able to access single-sex spaces has led to her being labelled transphobic, although that is not a description she accepts.

She claims she has been “ostracised for voicing not only my own opinions but those of thousands of others who are starting to question the party they have dedicated so much of their lives to”. And she claims other Labour MPs agree with that she thinks but are afraid to speak out.

I know I’m not the only MP in the party who thinks this — I’m just the only one who feels I have nothing to lose by speaking out. After all, there’s no front-bench job offer for the only Labour MP in my county. Many of us know that self-identifying as a woman does not make a person a biological woman who shares our lived experience. But for obvious reasons, these views are not voiced outside of closed rooms or private and secret WhatsApp groups. Even there, the most senior MPs often do not post a single word; they know exactly what’s at stake and not many of them want to be me. So for now, they mostly remain silent.

Duffied has spoken about her experience in the past of being in an abusive relationship and she says the lack of suppport she gets from the party on women’s rights reminds her of this.

One of the traits of being in an abusive relationship is “stonewalling”. The abuser will go quiet for days on end. They will stew, not speak to you, turn their back on you. Trust me when I say I don’t take this lightly: but what I feel now, after six years of being cold-shouldered by the Labour party, conjures memories of how I felt in that abusive relationship. When I come home at night, I feel low-level trauma at my political isolation.

Referring to the next election, she says:

In 2019, it was hard enough trying to convince my constituents that Labour wasn’t antisemitic. In the next election, when they inevitably ask whether Labour is sexist, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do the same.

Rosie Duffield speaking in the Commons on Tuesday during the ministerial statement on Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill. Photograph: Uk Parliament/Reuters

Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland secretary is acting like a governor general

Nicola Sturgeon has accused the Scotland secretary of acting “like a governor general” in a further escalation of hostilities between the Westminster and Holyrood governments, my colleague Libby Brooks reports.

Back to levelling up, and last night George Mann from the BBC posted several regional newspaper front pages on Twitter to show their response to the levelling up funding awards announced yesterday. Some of the coverage is very negative.

This is from the Yorkshire Post.

This is from the Bradford Telegraph and Argus.

This is from the Journal in Newcastle.

This is from the Bolton News.

But the Lancashire Telegraph is positive.

Leo Varadkar admits regrets over Northern Ireland protocol

Ireland’s taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has said he regrets that the Northern Ireland protocol he agreed with Boris Johnson to end a Brexit impasse was signed without the agreement of unionists and nationalists, my colleagues Matthew Weaver and Lisa O’Carroll report.

Teaching unions to hold six hours of talks with officials in attempt to avert strikes

Education unions are meeting government officials for a marathon six-hour round of talks in an attempt to avert teacher walkouts in the coming weeks, PA Media reports. PA says:

Friday’s meeting comes after union leaders said there had been “no progress” after discussions with the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, on Wednesday.

The National Education Union (NEU) plans seven days of strike action in England and Wales in a dispute over pay – with the first on 1 February coinciding with walkouts by staff at universities, on the rail network and in Whitehall.

The union has said strike action could affect more than 23,000 schools.

The planned length of Friday’s meeting was described as a “step forward” by Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

The ASCL is not part of strike action, but Barton, who said he will be at the talks, said there is anger among his members over a range of issues, including education funding and problems with recruitment and retention as well as pay.

The schools minister Nick Gibb said the government understands the pressures facing teachers and is willing to negotiate, but warned against “inflation-busting pay settlements”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “Officials in the department today are spending six hours with the four unions discussing the issues that we discussed on Wednesday, and the secretary of state said they could start discussing issues like pay but also other issues such as workload and the conditions of teachers in schools.

“So you know, we do understand the pressures that teachers are under.”

NHS ambulance workers announce fresh strike dates as pay row escalates

Ambulance workers have announced a series of fresh strikes including one next month that was already predicted to be the biggest day of stoppages in NHS history, my colleagues Matthew Weaver and Anna Bawden report.

Blow to levelling up as poll says there’s almost nowhere in Britain where people generally think local area getting better

Good morning. “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” That is one of the most powerful questions in electoral politics, made famous when Ronald Reagan asked it in 1980 and now increasingly being used by the Labour party. It was also, in part, the inspiration behind Boris Johnson’s levelling up campaign. When Johnson won his surprise near-landslide election in 2019, taking seats in deprived areas that had voted Labour for decades, the Tories admitted that if they were going to hold these constituencies, then by the time of the next elections voters would have to be feeling that jobs were picking up, the high street was smarter, the place was getting better.

But they don’t. Last night YouGov published devastating polling for the government showing that levelling up has failed to make people feel their community is getting better and that there is almost nowhere where voters think their local area is improving.

Polls showing people unhappy about the state of the country come out almost daily nowadays. But this one is different because it involves data from more than 100,000 people between August and October last year, and it uses multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP – a data analytical technique) to produce results on a local authority-by-local authority basis. Here are the key findings.

  • Overall there is almost nowhere in Britain where people generally think their local area has improved in recent years, the poll suggests. In most council areas (215) the most common response was for people to say conditions had stayed about the same. And in 142 council areas the most common response was for people to say the area had declined.

  • There are only four council areas where people were most likely to say they felt their local areas had improved in recent years, the poll suggests. They are all in London: Hackney, Islington, Southwark, and Tower Hamlets.

  • People living in areas given top priority in the first round of awards from the levelling up fund were more likely to say their areas had got worse in recent years than people in tier two priority areas, or in areas that did not get any funding at all, the poll suggests. Round one levelling up funding was announced in autumn 2021.

The YouGov report on the figures is here. And here is the most useful chart.

Polling on whether local area has improved
Polling on whether local area has improved Photograph: YouGov

If you had to put a positive gloss on this for the Tories, you could point out that these figures are now a few months out of date. You could say they might just reflect a general despondency about the state of the country, caused by the cost of living crisis. And you could say that, where people living in places getting levelling up money are more pessimistic than average about what is happening to their area, that might just be because levelling up money is going to places that are particularly deprived.

But, still, it is hard not to read the poll as compelling evidence that, in political/electoral terms at least, levelling up is failing.

As we report in our splash today, yesterday’s announcement of the second round of levelling up awards also prompted criticism. A Guardian analysis found that Tory seats have been awarded significantly more money from the fund than areas with similar levels of deprivation.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: MPs start debating backbench bills.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

1pm: Keir Starmer takes part in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum at Davos.

I’ll try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

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