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Ukip leader Nigel Farage backs Claridge’s hotel in row over mother asked to hide her baby under a napkin and urges women to ‘be discreet’.
Louise Burns breastfeeding her baby while having tea with her family – and with the napkin she was told to wear by Claridge’s. Photo: @andysrelation/Twitter
When a waiter approached Louise Burns at Claridge’s on Monday and told her hotel policy required her to cover her breastfeeding baby with a napkin, he cannot have predicted the events that he had just set in train.
Burns, feeling shocked and humiliated at being asked to conceal her 12-week-old daughter, tweeted a photograph of the incident, saying: “Asked to cover up with this ridiculous shroud while breastfeeding so not to cause offence at Claridge’s.”
Five days later, the outrage provoked by her tweets had swirled into a political storm involving the prime minister, the shadow home secretary and Ukip’s leader, Nigel Farage, and led to a protest that will gather on Saturday outside the luxury hotel to demand a change in its policy.
Downing Street was initially reluctant to be drawn into commenting on the incident, saying only that women should be free to breastfeed their babies in public.
But after Farage told a radio interviewer on Friday that breastfeeding mothers could “perhaps sit in a corner”, a question that had sparked heated debate on social media and parenting websites became a political one too.
Farage told LBC’s Nick Ferrari: “I think that given that some people feel very embarrassed by [breastfeeding], it isn’t too difficult to breastfeed a baby in a way that’s not openly ostentatious.”
If the hotel asked a nursing mother to cover up, he said: “Frankly, that’s up to Claridge’s. I very much take the view that if you’re running an establishment you should have rules.”
When asked if women should be told to go to the toilet to breastfeed, Farage replied: “Or perhaps sit in the corner, or whatever it might be – that’s up to Claridge’s. It’s not an issue that I get terribly hung up about, but I know particularly people of the older generation feel awkward and embarrassed by it.”
Responding to Farage’s comments, David Cameron’s spokesman said: “It’s for Mr Farage to explain his views. The prime minister shares the view of the NHS, which is that breastfeeding is completely natural and it’s totally unacceptable for anybody to be made to feel uncomfortable while breastfeeding in public.”
The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, later tweeted: “NHS recommends exclusive breastfeeding. Mums, ignore @Nigel_Farage & @ClaridgesHotel – no corners or covers needed #ostentatiousbreastfeeding.”
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, suggested Farage himself should sit in a corner following his remarks.
The hotel was also condemned by the Liberal Democrat equalities minister, Jo Swinson, who said: “It’s depressing that when there are such well-documented benefits of breastfeeding, officious policies like this make new mums feel uncomfortable for doing nothing more than feeding their baby.”
“Many babies don’t like feeding under a tent and mothers shouldn’t be forced to cover up, as if they are doing something illicit or wrong.”
Farage later tried to clarify his remarks, blaming the media for misinterpreting him. “I personally have no problem with mothers breastfeeding wherever they want,” he said.
However, he went on to repeat his views that a public establishment “perhaps might ask women to sit in a corner” and argued that most breastfeeding women “will recognise the need to be discreet in certain, limited, circumstances”.
“Of course we allow breastfeeding at Claridge’s,” a spokeswoman for the hotel said last night, “We just ask guests to be discreet, that’s all.”
But the campaign group Free to Feed called on breastfeeding women and others to gather outside the hotel at 2pm on Saturday for what it described as a peaceful “nurse-in” in support of nursing mothers.
“Enough is enough. Claridge’s have had ample time to apologise for their mistake and rectify the situation by changing their ‘policy’, which states that they allow nursing mothers ‘as long as they are discreet’.
“Claridge’s seem to think that they are above the laws and legislation of this land,” a statement on the group’s website said.
If you feel strongly enough about Claridge’s Hotel policy on breastfeeding why not send them an email: email@example.com or why not pop along to Claridge’s tomorrow at 2pm to show your support.
David Cameron at prime minister’s questions. Photograph: PA
It all started off as an ordinary prime minister’s questions – the normal quips between the leaders, the questions, and the bad gags.
Yet it became a case of raised eyebrows and suggestive double-entendres as the prime minister, David Cameron, made a dig at the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.
The shadow chancellor said he would be tough on the deficit and tough on the causes of the deficit. He is one of the causes of the deficit.
I think we’ve all found one of the first ever examples of political masosadism.
Some MPs were left open-mouthed, while others shouted: “You mean sadomasochism!”
The Speaker of the house, John Bercow, cried: “Order, order! We all know what the prime minister meant. I understand the house gets excited.”
One MP said audibly: “You screwed it up.”
Cameron corrected himself, saying: “I meant to say masochism,” and added:
Normally the shadow chancellor likes to dish it out but can’t take it, but after this quote he likes to take it as well, so there we are.
Ed Balls (right)
But pray tell, what is masosadism, Mr Cameron?
£2.3bn for flood defences in England is not new money, and spending has gone backwards under this Tory-led government despite its claims to the contrary.
‘The government … is having to rely on councils to meet three-quarters of the costs as the private sector sit on their hands. It is difficult to see how cash-strapped local authorities will be able to raise anything like £600m for flood defences in the next six years.’ Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/Alamy
Maria Eagle MP, shadow environment secretary for the Labour party.
Climate change is a serious threat to national security and last year’s winter storms highlighted the cost, damages and disruption that extreme weather can cause. Yet within the first six months of the coalition, David Cameron cut the flood protection budget by over £100m, leaving many communities, including the South West, overly exposed.
Ever since then the government has been playing catch up and that’s what today’s promise of £2.3billion for flood defence schemes is all about.
Communities at risk of flooding won’t buy this spin from David Cameron. The £2.3bn is not new money, instead it is another re-announcement of capital funding confirmed a year ago. As a result the Committee on Climate Change claims that the government’s plans will leave 80,000 additional properties at significant risk of flooding in the next five years alone. There were even reports over the weekend that these plans contain a £500m black hole.
There are some heroic assumptions underlying these plans. The government has assumed it can raise £600m of the £2.3bn from its ‘partnership funding programme’, four times more than at present. The programme includes contributions from both the public and private sectors. Yet this has been a disaster.
Not only has the government failed to raise even the original target of £140m in this Parliament, it is having to rely on councils to meet three-quarters of the costs as the private sector sit on their hands. It is difficult to see how cash-strapped local authorities will be able to raise anything like £600m for flood defences in the next six years.
The reality is that flood risk management has gone backwards under this Tory-led government. Despite repeatedly telling us that they’re spending ‘more than ever’ and promising that “money is no object” they have been found out time and time again. Just last month the National Audit Office confirmed that David Cameron has cut flood defence spending by 10% in real terms since 2010.
This same short-term approach has been applied to the ongoing maintenance of flood defences which were cut by 20% in 2010. As a result the Committee on Climate Change has said that three-quarters of existing flood defences are not being maintained to their identified need. This will end up costing the taxpayer more in the long-term because maintaining existing flood defence systems can be among the most cost-effective use of resources.
This replaces The Guardian’s video which was not available to share.
Communities at risk of flooding deserve a proper long-term plan for infrastructure investment, including flooding. That is why Labour has called for an Independent National Infrastructure Commission to set out its flood defence spending in the context of a 25-30 year infrastructure plan.
Taking climate change seriously is not something only to be done a few months before an election. Voters won’t be fooled by the prime minister who pledged to lead the “greenest government ever” and then instructed his aides to “cut the green crap”.
Maria Eagle MP is Labour’s shadow environment secretary.
Historic innovations that have been adopted too hastily with grave unforeseen impacts provide cautionary examples for potential side effects of fracking, says report by government’s chief scientist Mark Walport.
The world could tackle climate change with energy efficiency and renewable energy alone but vested interests in the fossil fuel industry stand in the way, says report. Photograph: Julie Dermansky/Corbis
Adam Vaughan, The Guardian.
Fracking carries potential risks on a par with those from thalidomide, tobacco and asbestos, warns a report produced by the government’s chief scientific adviser.
The flagship annual report by the UK’s chief scientist, Mark Walport, argues that history holds many examples of innovations that were adopted hastily and later had serious negative environmental and health impacts.
The controversial technique, which involves pumping chemicals, sand and water at high pressure underground to fracture shale rock and release the gas within, has been strongly backed by the government with David Cameron saying the UK is “going all out for shale”.
But environmentalists fear that fracking could contaminate water supplies, bring heavy lorry traffic to rural areas, displace investment in renewable energy and accelerate global warming.
The chief scientific adviser’s report appears to echo those fears. “History presents plenty of examples of innovation trajectories that later proved to be problematic — for instance involving asbestos, benzene, thalidomide, dioxins, lead in petrol, tobacco, many pesticides, mercury, chlorine and endocrine-disrupting compounds…” it says.
“In all these and many other cases, delayed recognition of adverse effects incurred not only serious environmental or health impacts, but massive expense and reductions in competitiveness for firms and economies persisting in the wrong path.”
Thalidomide was one of the worst drug scandals in modern history, killing 80,000 babies and maiming 20,000 babies after it was taken by expectant mothers.
Fracking provides a potentially similar example today, the report warns: “… innovations reinforcing fossil fuel energy strategies — such as hydraulic fracturing — arguably offer a contemporary prospective example.”
The chapter, written by Prof Andrew Stirling of the University of Sussex, also argues that the UK and the world could tackle climate change with energy efficiency and renewable energy alone but vested interests in the fossil fuel industry stand in the way.
There is a “clear feasibility of strategies built entirely around energy efficiency and renewable energy”, the report, published earlier this month, says. “Yet one of the main obstacles to this lies in high-profile self-fulfilling assertions to the contrary, including by authoritative policy figures.”
“In energy… the obstacles to less-favoured strategies [such as energy efficiency and renewables] are typically more commercial, institutional and cultural than they are technical. Among the most potent of these political obstructions are claims from partisan interests — such as incumbent nuclear or fossil fuel industries — that there is no alternative to their favoured innovations and policies.”
A spokesman for the Royal Academy of Engineering, which produced an influential 2012 report on shale gas with the Royal Society that concluded it could be safe if it was properly regulated, said the risks from fracking were very low.
“Our conclusion was that if carried out to highest standards of best practice, the risks are very low for any environmental contamination. The most serious risks come in the drilling and casing and surface operations rather than the fracturing itself.”
“You can’t eliminate the risk of something going wrong, but you can monitor very closely and be very open and transparent about what’s going on.”
On the chief scientific adviser’s report, he said: “I think he’s making a very broad and general point.”
Greenpeace UK’s energy campaigner, Louise Hutchins, said: “This is a naked-emperor moment for the government’s dash to frack. Ministers are being warned by their own chief scientist that we don’t know anywhere near enough about the potential side effects of shale drilling to trust this industry. The report is right to raise concerns about not just the potential environmental and health impact but also the economic costs of betting huge resources on an unproven industry. Ministers should listen to this appeal to reason and subject their shale push to a sobering reality check.”