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Double blow for UK’s Boris Johnson as he loses two key by-elections

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Campaign posters in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, ahead of a key by-election triggered after Conservative MP Imran Ahmed Khan was convicted of sexually assaulting a minor.

Daniel Harvey Gonzalez/In Pictures via Getty Images

LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suffered a double blow at the ballot box as his party lost two key parliamentary by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton.

The votes, at opposite ends of England, had been viewed as a litmus test of Johnson’s standing after a string of scandals — including parties held at Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns — and a spiraling cost-of-living crisis.

The double defeats prompted the immediate resignation of Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden, whose resignation letter said the party’s supporters were “distressed and disappointed by recent events” and that “someone must take responsibility.”

Wakefield

The main opposition Labour Party regained its former stronghold seat of Wakefield, in West Yorkshire, from Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party. Labour candidate Simon Lightwood defeated Conservative candidate Nadeem Ahmed by 4,925 votes as the Tories saw a 17.3-point slide in their vote share from the 2019 General Election.

The Conservatives won Wakefield in 2019 for the first time since 1932, with the city becoming one of 45 historically Labour-voting seats that flipped at the last general election. The slogan “Get Brexit Done” and Johnson’s “oven-ready” Brexit deal were central to the campaign that demolished Labour’s “red wall” across its traditional working class heartlands in 2019.

Johnson’s party went into Thursday’s Wakefield election with a slender 7.5-point majority.

The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Conservative Member of Parliament Imran Ahmad Khan following his conviction for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy at a party in 2008.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer said the result showed the country “has lost confidence in the Tories.”

Tiverton and Honiton

By contrast, the Tiverton and Honiton constituency, in Devon, has historically been viewed as a “safe” seat for the Conservatives, with the party winning 60% of the vote in 2019.

But the centrist Liberal Democrats, the third-largest party in England, stormed to victory on Thursday to overturn a Conservative majority of more than 24,000 votes. Lib Dem candidate Richard Frood defeated Conservative candidate Helen Hurford by more than 6,000 votes, registering a swing of almost 30%, one of the biggest by-election swings in British history.

The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Conservative MP Neil Parish, who admitted to watching pornography in Parliament.

The constituency had become a target of significant campaign resources for the Lib Dems, who hoped to replicate the 34-point swing that saw the party take North Shropshire from the Conservatives in December 2021.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey told the BBC that the result was “a wake-up call for all those Conservative MPs propping up Boris Johnson,” adding that they “cannot afford to ignore this result.”

What now for Johnson?

Prior to polls closing in Wakefield and Tiverton, the prime minister dismissed the notion that he would quit if he lost the seats as “crazy.”

Following Thursday’s results, he said he would “listen to voters” but vowed to “keep going,” despite the apparent waning of his electoral strength.

Johnson narrowly survived a confidence vote among his own MPs earlier this month, after a damning report laid bare the extent of rule-breaking at Downing Street and the nearby Whitehall government building during the pandemic.

Now, the by-election results and party chair Dowden’s prompt resignation will likely turn up the heat even more on the embattled leader.

The main gripe for voters appears to have been the “partygate” scandal, which drew national ire across political divides and saw Johnson and Finance Minister Rishi Sunak receive fines from the police for breaking lockdown rules.

Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper reported earlier this week that Conservative campaign leaflets and advertisements relating to the by-elections in both West Yorkshire and Devon had either omitted references to Johnson entirely, or made them notably scarce.

Helen Hurford, the Conservative candidate in Tiverton, was booed by constituents at a town hall last week after dodging a question about the prime minister’s moral character.

Matt Singh, election analyst and founder of Number Cruncher Politics, highlighted in a tweet Friday that tactical voting aimed at ousting the Conservatives, rather than backing Labour or the Liberal Democrats in particular, had been a significant factor in the result.

“Labour lost its deposit in Tiverton and won Wakefield on a decent swing. Lib Dems lost their deposit in Wakefield and won on a huge swing in Tiverton. This is industrial scale tactical voting, and it’s a big deal,” Singh said.

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Global monkeypox outbreak isn’t an international public health emergency ‘at present,’ WHO rules

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Both the World Health Organization director-general and an emergency committee convened Thursday agree that monkeypox isn’t a international public health emergency “at present,” the organization said Saturday. Read More

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Non-work related loss of life

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NEW YORK, June 25, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Mercer International Inc. (“Mercer” or the “Company”) (Nasdaq: MERC) is deeply saddened to announce that an employee has passed away at its Rosenthal mill in Germany on June 25, 2022. Mercer and local authorities conducted an investigation and so far determined that the tragic loss was not work related. Mercer’s emergency procedures were immediately activated, local authorities were notified and industrial safety and occupational health personnel were involved for support.

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“We are saddened about the loss of life of one of our employees and our thoughts are with the individual’s family and colleagues,” stated Christian Soergel, Managing Director of Mercer Rosenthal. “Given the nature of the incident, we will be respecting the privacy of our employee’s family and will continue providing support to them and to all our affected employees.”

About Us

Mercer International Inc. is a global forest products company with operations in Germany, USA and Canada with a consolidated annual production capacity of 2.3 million tonnes of pulp, 550 million board feet of lumber, and 140 thousand cubic meters of CLT. To obtain further information on the company, please visit its website at www.mercerint.com.

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The preceding includes forward looking statements which involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties which may cause our actual results in future periods to differ materially from forecasted results. Words such as “expects”, “anticipates”, “are optimistic that”, “projects”, “intends”, “designed”, “will”, “believes”, “estimates”, “may”, “could” and variations of such words and similar expressions are intended to identify such forward‐looking statements. Among those factors which could cause actual results to differ materially are the following: the highly cyclical nature of our business, raw material costs, our level of indebtedness, competition, foreign exchange and interest rate fluctuations, our use of derivatives, expenditures for capital projects, environmental regulation and compliance, disruptions to our production, market conditions and other risk factors listed from time to time in our SEC reports.

APPROVED BY:

Jimmy S.H. Lee
Executive Chairman of the Board
(604) 684-1099

Juan Carlos Bueno
President & Chief Executive Officer
(604) 684-1099

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Burned and banned: Can the ritual of destroying books kill thoughts or ideas?

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“Powerful words cannot be distinguished,” says a remark in the video of veteran author Margaret Atwood, who, in collaboration with Penguin Random House, announced an ‘unburnable’ edition of her most famous work, The Handmaid’s Tale. This edition was not just meant for a burning act to signify censorship against dystopian literature conveyed in Atwood’s book, but was specially auctioned for $130,000 in New York this month. The amount raised will support PEN America’s crucial work to counter the national crisis of censorship.

However, in reality, the author hopes to raise awareness about the proliferating book banning and educational gag orders in American schools nationwide with the video that has already garnered over 5 billion potential views. “Free speech issues are being hotly debated… We hope it raises awareness and leads to reasoned discussion,” Atwood said in a statement.

PEN America has been at the forefront of the fight against this wave of censorship in American schools. Its recent report “Banned in the USA,” documented 1,586 instances of individual books being banned in 86 school districts in 26 states.

Even at the annual PEN Gala in New York, writer and actress Faith Salie said the unburnable book “was made to withstand not only the fire-breathing censors and blazing bigots, but actual flames, the ones they would like to use to burn down our democracy.”

The unburnable printed edition was made in black-and-white-coated aluminum Cinefoils, used in film production to wrap hot lights, which are stable to 660°C/1220°F, textblock hand-sewn with nickel wire, often used in electrical components, which is stable at 1400°C/2,600°F, head and tail bands are woven stainless steel, used in aerospace manufacturing, which are stable up to 1530°C/2790°F.

But book burning and banning has been sort of a ritual in the past. Right from the works of authors like Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud to American authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Helen Keller, powerful leaders and despots have tried hard to kill, dissuade or ban and destroy many thought-provoking writings.

While the right to dissent does not seem to have lost its credibility, especially with the rise of social media, with desperate crackdown measures, photos and videos going viral, a pertinent question to ask here is, can this sort of activism kill ideas?

Book bans, burnings or educational gag orders are increasingly alarming in this era of free speech, especially when the censors’ primary targets have been literary works about racism, gender, and sexual orientation, often written by authors of colour and LGBTQ+ writers, as well as classroom lessons about social inequality, history, and sexuality.

On the other hand, books do have an emotive power and sometimes it can be dangerous, intolerant, oppressive or ugly. There is no doubt that in the past years book burning or banning have followed a pattern. Either they are offensive or violent or inappropriate for the reading public. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series was removed from a school library in Tennessee due to the spells in the books being actual curses and risking humans with evil spirits. Not just Harry Potter books, but there are authors who have drawn flak for unattractive writings or hurting sentiments of the public.

A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway was a semi-autobiographical novel set during World War I, was banned from Boston newsstands for its sexual, ‘vulgar’ content and in Italy for its depiction of the army’s retreat in the battle of Caporetto. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis was censored in Queensland for its extreme scenes of graphic violence. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank was deeply influential and taken off shelves or reading lists for her maturing anatomy. Animal Farm by George Orwell was banned in the USSR until the 1980s and also banned from schools in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 for its depiction of a talking pig, which was felt to oppose Islamic values. Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James faced censure for its pornographic depiction. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain reinforced racial stereotypes. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee saw temporary bans in the US for racism. Recently, the Russian war on Ukraine scorched remains of paintings, sculptures and books burned as part of the destruction of Ukrainian cultural identity.

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