LONDON — Boris Johnson launched the Conservative party manifesto on Sunday with headline pledges to deliver Brexit by January 31 and spend £100 billion on the U.K.s infrastructure.
The party has put its promise of a speedy resolution to Brexit at the heart of its campaign ahead of the U.K.s December 12 election. Elsewhere, the 59-page manifesto document prioritizes spending on health, education, policing and infrastructure. According to the accompanying costings document, annual current spending under the Conservatives would rise by £3 billion by 2024, compared with more than £80 billion for Labour.
Johnson has avoided several of the policy controversies that tripped up his predecessor, Theresa May, during the last election; his manifesto makes no mention of a plan to reform care for sick and disabled people and pledges not to change the law on fox-hunting, both of which caused headaches for the party in 2017.
At its launch in Telford in the West Midlands, Johnson said delivering Brexit was about honoring the “democratic processes of this country.”
“We want to focus on the priorities of the British people, above all the NHS and the cost of living,” he said.
Polls published this weekend give the Conservatives a lead of between 12 and 19 points, which would grant Johnson a parliamentary majority.
If he wins Decembers election, Johnson will bring his Brexit deal back to parliament for a vote before Christmas, and seek to get it ratified in U.K. law by the current January 31 deadline. The House of Commons approved the second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in October, but the prime minister pulled the bill after MPs declined to support his proposed timetable for passing the legislation.
The manifesto rules out any extension of the Brexit transition period past December 2020, meaning that the U.K. would have to negotiate a new trading relationship with the EU by then or else leave without a deal.
A Tory administration would aim to have 80 percent of U.K. trade covered by free trade agreements within the next three years.
The manifesto pledges “fewer lower-skilled migrants” and reduced immigration overall, but does not set specific targets.
Immigration would be managed through an Australian-style points-based system, which will aim to “attract the best and brightest from all over the world” through bespoke visa schemes such as the already announced NHS visa for qualified doctors, nurses and other health professionals with a job offer from the NHS and good working English. Top researchers would also be offered fast-track visas.
UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS
EU nationals arriving in the U.K. after Brexit and non-EU nationals would be treated “equally” when it comes to visas and non-contributory benefits. They would only be able to access unemployment, housing and child benefits after five years. The Tories would guarantee the rights of the EU nationals who were living in the U.K. before Brexit.
New immigrants would contribute to the National Health Service and “pay in before they can receive benefits.”
The manifesto pledges to increase the annual quota for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme the government is piloting from 2,500 to 10,000.
A Tory government would enforce charges on people using the NHS without contributing in a bid to reduce the incidence of “health tourism.” It would continue to grant asylum to refugees fleeing persecution.
Health and social care
The Tories are pledging a £33.9 billion boost to the NHS by 2023-24.
The party has already committed money to upgrade six hospitals by 2025, and the manifesto says the party would fund the construction of new ones over the next decade.
They would also make available 50 million extra GP appointments, which amounts to a 15 percent increase on current figures. “Within the first three months of our new term, we will enshrine in law our fully funded, long-term NHS plan,” the manifesto says.
The party is pledging to scrap hospital car parking charges for NHS staff on night shifts, as well as disabled and terminally ill patients and their families and those who require regular visits to hospital in England. This would have an estimated cost of £78 million a year. Hospital parking in Scotland and Wales is already free.
The Conservatives are pledging to recruit 50,000 extra nurses — at a cost of £750 million a year — and 6,000 more doctors in GP surgeries, a promise that comes as significant numbers of EU staff leave the NHS because of Brexit uncertainty. The party would reintroduce maintenance grants of between £5,000 and £8,000 per year for student nurses, which were axed under David Cameron.
“The services the NHS provides will not be on the table” when the government negotiates trade deals, the manifesto says.
The manifesto includes £5 billion in short-term funding for so-called social care for disabled, sick and elderly people. It does not set out a social care policy, and instead pledges to work with opposition parties to “come up with long-term proposals.” It issues a guarantee that no one would have to sell their home to pay for care, another policy that caused problems at the last election for May, whose plan was dubbed the “dementia tax” by critics.
The Tories are pledging not to raise rates of income tax, national insurance or VAT over the next five years.
Johnson, who had pledged to raise the higher rate of income tax from £50,000 to £80,000 during his Tory leadership campaign pledge, said he had lost “none” of his “tax-cutting zeal,” but he wanted to focus tax cuts on “people who need them most.”
More than that, the Tories would raise the threshold at which workers must make national insurance contributions from £8,628 to £9,500 in 2020-21, a measure the party says would save 31 million taxpayers £100 next year. The party would also raise the national minimum wage from £8.21 to £10.50.
The Tories have rowed back on a promise to cut corporation tax, saying it will now stay steady at 19 percent. However, they would cut four business taxes: the business rate, R&D tax, construction tax and employers national insurance contributions. The party also pledges to halve business rates for smaller pubs, shops and cinemas.
The manifesto says the Conservatives would also maintain the so-called triple lock on state pensions, which guarantees the rate at which this rises, and the winter fuel payment, an annual tax-free sum to help older people with heating costs. At the last election, May proposed scrapping the “triple lock,” a policy decision that was widely blamed for her losing the Tory majority.
Public spending would be limited to 3 percent of GDP averaged over the five-year parliament, but this target would be reassessed if debt interest reaches 6 percent of revenue in order to “keep debt under control,” Johnsons manifesto says.
A total of £100 billion would be spent on infrastructure up to 2025. Of this, the manifesto already allocates £22 billion to specific projects, with the rest expected to be set out in a National Infrastructure Strategy, to be published alongside the next budget.
Rather than nationalizing the railways as Labour pledged, the Conservatives propose ending the “complicated” franchising model and creating “a simpler, more effective rail system, including giving metro mayors control over services in their areas.”
The Tories want to build a so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester, and then focus on Liverpool, Tees Valley, Hull, Sheffield and Newcastle.
They would also support the Midlands Rail Hub, a £2 billion package of improvements to east-west rail connections between Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, Coventry, Derby, Hereford and Worcester. They would connect small towns by reinstating some local railway lines that were axed in the 1960s.
The party would also attempt to curb all-out rail strikes by legislating for some services to run during industrial action.
City regions would receive funding for bus, tram and train services upgrades “to make them as good as Londons,” the manifesto says, without pledging a figure.
There would be “superbus networks” with lower fares and increased frequency, but the manifesto does not say how many of the thousands of bus routes axed by previous Conservative governments would be restored.
A £350 million Cycling Infrastructure Fund would support the expansion of cycling routes.
The Conservatives are also promising to spend £2 billion for the U.K.s biggest-ever pothole filling program. This is almost 10 times the amount the party promised in March. A further £28.8 billion would be spent on strategic and local roads, and on completing a fast-charging network for electric vehicles.
And they would build up to 10 freeports — zones where normal tax and customs rules do not apply — around the U.K.
Technology and R&D
A Tory government would legislate to prevent online abuse, especially against children. The Gambling Act would be reviewed and adapted for the digital age.
The Tories intend to offer full fiber broadband to every home and business across the U.K. by 2025. The party would implement the digital services tax developed by former Chancellor Philip Hammond.
The Conservatives would spend 2.4 percent of the U.K.s GDP on research by 2027. Some of the funds would go to creating “a new agency for high-risk, high-payoff research, at arms length from government.”
The manifesto specifically pledges to double funding for dementia research and to speed up trials for new treatments for the disease. It expresses a desire to make the U.K. “the leading global hub for life sciences after Brexit,” as well as to focus funding on research into space, clean energy, robotics and artificial intelligence.
The manifesto also mentions an ambition to continue collaborating with the EU on scientific research, including through the Horizon Europe R&D funding program.
The Conservatives would seek to reduce the form-filling burden on scientists applying for grants, according to the document.
The R&D tax credit rate would be increased to 13 percent. Firms would be able to claim tax relief for investments in cloud computing and data.
Agriculture and fishing
The Conservatives would guarantee the current annual budget for farmers and funding for fisheries in every year of the next parliament. In return, farmers would be asked to respect the natural environment, and the party would introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably.
The U.K. would leave both the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy after Brexit, according to the manifesto, as has long been Tory policy.
The party says it would encourage the public sector to buy British agricultural products after leaving the EU.
As mentioned above, the Tories would increase the annual quota for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme the government is piloting.
The manifesto mentions that the party would make no changes to the Hunting Act, for example by reversing the ban on fox-hunting.
Climate and sustainability
The Tories are aiming to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The party would ban the export of plastic waste outside the OECD to reduce the environmental impact on oceans and developing countries. It would introduce a levy designed to increase the proportion of recyclable plastic in packaging.
It would form aRead More – Source
Apple Christmas sales surge to $111bn amid pandemic
Apple sales have hit another record, as families loaded up on the firm’s latest phones, laptops and gadgets during the Christmas period.
Sales in the last three months of 2020 hit more than $111bn (£81bn) – up 21% from the prior year.
The gains come as the pandemic pushes more activity online, fuelling demand for new technology.
Apple now counts more than 1.65 billion active devices globally, including more than 1 billion iPhones.
Apple’s gains follow the release of its new iPhone 12 suite of phones, which executives said had convinced a record number of people to switch to the company or upgrade from older models.
The firm said growth in China – where the pandemic has already loosened its grip on the economy – was particularly strong, helped in part by demand for phones compatible with new 5G networks.
Sales in the firm’s greater China region, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, jumped 57%. In Europe, sales roles 17%, and they rose 11% in the Americas.
“The products are doing very well all around the world,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer. “As we look ahead into the March quarter, we’re very optimistic.”
Analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said he thought the firm was just at the beginning of a “super-cycle” as Apple devotees finally trade in old phones, coinciding with upgrades to telecommunications networks.
“With 5G now in the cards and roughly 40% of its ‘golden jewel’ iPhone installed base not upgrading their phones in the last 3.5 years, [Apple chief Tim] Cook & Co have the stage set for a renaissance of growth,” he wrote.
Big Tech is having an exceptionally lucrative pandemic.
It’s hard not to be wowed by some of these figures.
That Apple recorded more than $100bn in sales in just three months is simply astonishing.
Facebook figures are also well up on where they were last year.
As other companies have struggled to survive, Big Tech has flourished.
There are other reasons for some of these incredible figures. Certainly it seems iPhone enthusiasts were holding out for the new 5G enabled iPhone12.
But it’s not just Apple and Facebook, all of the massive tech companies are having a bumper year.
Covid-19 means people are spending more time indoors – buying things online, watching things online and chatting online.
Perhaps then it’s no surprise that these companies are posting record breaking figures.
But others point to these figures as yet more evidence that Big Tech has become too big to fail.
These figures are impressive. But they also attract the attention of politicians who are increasingly asking difficult questions – like are these tech mega companies operating in a market that is fair and with enough competition?
Facebook Apple feud
Apple said profits in the quarter reached nearly $28.8bn, up 29% compared with the same quarter last year.
The gains seen by technology firms like Apple contrast with losses hitting many other economic sectors, as the virus restricts activity and keeps shoppers at home.
Other tech firms, such as Microsoft and Facebook, have also enjoyed strong growth.
Facebook on Wednesday said increased online shopping during the pandemic helped lift ad revenue in the quarter by 30%.
The number of people active on its apps – which also include WhatsApp and Instagram – also rose to 2.6 billion daily, up 15% compared to 2019.
It said ad spending could slow as the Covid crisis relaxes and shopper appetite returns for services like travel rather than products.
It also warned that plans by Apple to change how it shares user data could weigh on growth.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55835504
The Spanish YouTuber who made €1 million in a week
“YouTube needs people to spend all day watching videos,” says Romuald Fons, an entrepreneur and YouTuber, with 721,000 subscribers to his channel on how to get websites rated in Google’s top search results.
Fons, 43, from Barcelona, knows all about YouTube. He spent two years maneuvering his channel into position and analyzing other channels to see what works best. His most viral video wasn’t even related to digital marketing – it was about how he got a six-pack in six months. “It was an experiment,” he explains to EL PAÍS from his office in Barcelona’s Poblenou neighborhood.
In December, he put all his advice in a course called CreceTube, which he sold for a week for €700 as a special introductory offer. Around 1,500 people bought it, according to the documents Fons showed to EL PAÍS, earning him over €1 million in seven days.
Attention-harvesting algorithms that promote extreme viral and extreme content are the subject of growing controversy. YouTube is one of the main platforms accused of pushing users into ever more radical political positions by promoting increasingly outrageous videos to keep them hooked.
But this is not Fons’ field of concern. “YouTube’s algorithms can be hacked,” he says. “It’s not like Google [YouTube and Google are owned by the same company, Alphabet]. Google has to show the user what they want to find because otherwise, they will stop using it. YouTube promotes clickbait [content designed to drive traffic to a website] in an extreme way.”
His course is for people who are starting out on YouTube and want to grow their audience. It includes tricks with names like SEOshock, Instaclick and SEOcreto to improve video content and rankings – if you type “YouTube course” into Google and YouTube, Fons’ videos are in the top results. “I’ve bought every course there is and I explain things that have never been explained,” he says. “We explain how to use Google so you know what type of content to create.” Among the comments on the course, there are, of course, users who think it’s a scam, and have created their own YouTube videos with their own explanations. But Fons is unfazed: “Clickbait is what you have to do,” he says.
Neither is Fons concerned about the Spanish YouTubers who make off to Andorra for tax reasons. “It’s not my place to give my opinion on what they do,” he says. “I am not strictly a YouTuber. I am an entrepreneur who has a YouTube channel. It is different. In my case, the money coming in is part of the business. I generate wealth in Spain and will continue to be taxed here. I don’t have that option [to go to a tax haven]. If I wanted to do that I would have to take advantage of legal loopholes and I’m not going to.”
Fons’ main global competitor is the Briton Neil Patel, who has 100,000 more subscribers than Fons but fewer total views despite having posted more videos. Forty percent of Fons’ audience is in Latin America – YouTube provides YouTubers with this kind of data in the form of graphs. “It has one that shows the average retention of all YouTube videos of the same length as yours,” he says. “If your video is above average, it promotes you.”
Rags to riches
Fons’ recent success is the latest step forward in a long, and not always successful, career in digital marketing that started in earnest in 2013 when he decided to specialize in search engine optimization (SEO) – the name given to strategies to increase website traffic from search engines. Today SEO is a basic tool for most companies with digital interests: businesses that do not appear on page one of Google’s results, do not exist. Now, as Fons points out, the coronavirus pandemic has meant that even long-established businesses have had to close their doors if they have failed to devise a digital strategy.
In January 2013, Fons did nothing but create websites in order to get them to show up in Google searches, place ads on them and attract hits. The first month, he created 10 websites and made €2.48. He could be forgiven for feeling discouraged.
But, the self-taught Fons plowed on. In order to learn which criteria Google rewarded in its results, he ended up creating 1,430 websites. Each one had something different. “I was seeing which ones worked well and which ones didn’t,” he says. “I started to create my own positioning strategy.”
The choice of sites was not random. He looked for the ones that had the most searches and paid the most for ad clicks: “Paella, Inem courses [courses run by the National Institute of Employment], outlets,” he says. “For recipes, I had the 220 keywords with the most traffic: mojitos, baked chicken….” Fons wrote the content for each page and used Adsense, a Google tool, to fill the pages with ads. When someone clicked, Fons earned money. Within a year, he was earning €1,500 a month. In 2016, three years after starting out, he was making more than €18,000 a month.
Put like that, it sounds easy, but Fons scarcely made €1,300 in the whole of 2013. At the time, he was living in Spain’s Valencia region and was making a living by writing texts at night for €4 each for the website, Fiber.
Fons’ story is typical of a tech entrepreneur – he’s had several failures, has fully committed to getting better at what he does, has made a video that leads to something new and has put in long working hours. His first failure was as a student and musician. After enrolling to study architecture, he left university to go on a six-year tour as a singer of a band called Rembrandt42, which is still on the music-streaming site Spotify. He met his ex-wife during a concert and, subsequently settled down to a job at a family-run water treatment company. “We were cleaning legionella tanks,” he recalls.
But Fons had big dreams. “I wanted to do like [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg and blow things apart,” he says. First, he created a social network for collectors, called Nakoko. “It wasn’t much of a start-up,” he says. “It was just me putting all my work and money into it. I went totally broke.” After that, he tried to set up a Spanish eBay, called lovende. “I got even more broke,” he says. “When I couldn’t even afford to pay for my son’s optional vaccinations, everything changed. They cost €80 and I didn’t have the money. That’s when I stopped blaming others.”
During this period, he had, however, learned something about SEO and digital marketing. Then he saw a video of entrepreneur Pat Flynn, who was earning passive income from Google. “I thought, if this guy can do it, so can I,” he says.
“Companies would call me and ask me why I was being ranked above them,” he says. “That’s when I set up the agency.” After two years of quietly carving his own niche, he began to make a name for himself. Now, his business BIGSEO Agency, has a staff of 41. Each client pays him more than €30,000 a year for his services. In 2020, his company had a turnover of €4 million.
Thanks to his own personal journey, Fons has been able to observe the evolution of SEO. Google has always aimed to be the gateway to the internet. If the search engine didn’t work well, users would not be using the site millions of times a day. According to Fons, typing in the keywords is no longer enough. Google should also know whether someone searching for Nike sneakers wants to buy a pair for running or is an Air Jordan collector. “It’s about understanding the user’s intent even if the keyword isn’t there,” he says. “Whether the search is for boilers or cheap flights, the question is – what’s the problem?” Google will reward whichever website knows how to answer this best. “Getting customers for boilers is no longer about positioning ‘boiler service’ in Google,” he clarifies.
As a YouTuber, Fons has been a public figure with an impact on thousands of people. His community of followers is called Marketing Furious and they have a Facebook page with 75,000 members. That has also led him to address mental health issues that members of his community are increasingly open about. “Our brains are not wired to absorb thousands of opinions about us a day,” he says. “YouTuber El Rubius is under brutal pressure. But over a thousand people have paid me more than €700 to teach them something. The pressure is cranked up. Your subconscious gets the better of you. You think you’re strong and you can do it, but you can’t.” Fons has also encountered angry followers out and about. “When you have millions of views, anything can happen,” he says. “Think of a full Barça [soccer] stadium; 100,000 people. I’m sure there are 10 that are nuts.”
Fons is focused on video survival in an era when the apps TikTok and Instagram Reels are taking off. In his favor, his old videos keep popping up at the top of digital marketing searches. “On the other networks, you make a video and after eight hours no one sees it,” he says. “You can reach an audience, but turning it into a business is another matter. TikTok is all about short attention spans.”
Google suspends ‘free speech’ app Parler
Google has suspended “free speech” social network Parler from its Play Store over its failure to remove “egregious content”.
Parler styles itself as “unbiased” social media and has proved popular with people banned from Twitter.
But Google said the app had failed to remove posts inciting violence.
Apple has also warned Parler it will remove the app from its App Store if it does not comply with its content-moderation requirements.
On Parler, the app’s chief executive John Matze said: “We won’t cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”
Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives. Such groups have frequently accused Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views.
While Mr Trump himself is not a user, the platform already features several high-profile contributors following earlier bursts of growth in 2020.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasts 4.9 million followers on the platform, while Fox News host Sean Hannity has about seven million.
It briefly became the most-downloaded app in the United States after the US election, following a clampdown on the spread of election misinformation by Twitter and Facebook.
However, both Apple and Google have said the app fails to comply with content-moderation requirements.
Analysis: Necessary or draconian action?
By Shayan Sardarizadeh, BBC Monitoring
For months, Parler has been one of the most popular social media platforms for right-wing users.
As major platforms began taking action against viral conspiracy theories, disinformation and the harassment of election workers and officials in the aftermath of the US presidential vote, the app became more popular with elements of the fringe far-right.
This turned the network into a right-wing echo chamber, almost entirely populated by users fixated on revealing examples of election fraud and posting messages in support of attempts to overturn the election outcome.
In the days preceding the Capitol riots, the tone of discussion on the app became significantly more violent, with some users openly discussing ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory by Congress.
Unsubstantiated allegations and defamatory claims against a number of senior US figures such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice-President Mike Pence were rife on the app.
Google and Apple say they are taking necessary action to ensure violent rhetoric is not promoted on their platforms.
However, to those increasingly concerned about freedom of speech and expression on online platforms, it represents another example of draconian action by major tech companies which threatens internet freedom.
This is a debate which is certain to continue beyond the Trump presidency.
In a statement, Google confirmed it had suspended Parler from its Play Store, saying: “Our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence.
“In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”
Apple has warned Parler it will be removed from the App Store on Saturday in a letter published by Buzzfeed News.
It said it had seen “accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate” the attacks on the US Capitol on 6 January.
Mr Matze said Parler had “no way to organise anything” and pointed out that Facebook groups and events had been used to organise action.
But Apple said: “Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service.”
“We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.”
In a related development, Google has kicked Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast off YouTube, saying it had repeatedly violated the platform’s rules.
The ex-White House aide’s channel had more than 300,000 subscribers.
“In accordance with our strikes system, we have terminated Steve Bannon’s channel ‘War room’ and one associated channel for repeatedly violating our Community Guidelines,” Google said in a statement.
“Any channel posting new videos with misleading content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election in violation of our policies will receive a strike, a penalty which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from YouTube.”
The action was taken shortly after the channel posted an interview with Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in which he blamed the Democrats for the rioting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
One anti-misinformation group said the action was long overdue after “months of Steve Bannon calling for revolution and violence”.
“The truth is YouTube should have taken down Steve Bannon’s account a long time ago and they shouldn’t rely on the labour of extremism researchers to moderate the content on their platform,” said Madeline Peltz, Senior Researcher at Media Matters for America.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55598887
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